Football, Sean Manning, Sports, WVU Sports

COLUMN: Still climbing, but the next step for Neal Brown and WVU is a signature win


MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Uninspired, unmotivated and undetermined are a few ways to explain what we saw on the field Saturday during WVU’s 42-6 loss at No. 9 Iowa State. It was as bad a performance the Mountaineers could have had with three weeks between games, and was arguably the worst since a 37-0 beatdown against Maryland in 2013 in a rainy day in Baltimore.

“We were soundly beaten in every phase,” WVU head coach Neal Brown said. “The first half was by far the worst football we’ve played to this point. I would say extremely disappointing would be putting it mildly.”

This week, rumors began circulating about Brown and the current opening at South Carolina, which Brown denied Tuesday, saying he “was not a candidate there.”

This column isn’t about the team being distracted by outside speculation, and I believe Brown when he said the Gamecocks were either not on his radar or he was not on theirs, but something WVU fans need to get used to are rumors of Brown’s departure for greener pastures, true or not.

Brown was a hot name a year ago for what he did in four seasons at Troy, helping the Trojans win 10 games in three straight seasons. When Dana Holgorsen bolted for Houston, WVU was in the right place at the right time to hire Brown away.

His credentials as not only a coach, but a community leader, spoke for itself, but he needed to show results on the field for the Mountaineers. Year 1, Brown had an excuse, finishing 5-7 and missing out on a bowl game.

In Year 2, many expected improvements and you’re turning a blind eye if you don’t believe this version of the Mountaineers is better than what we saw in 2019. Under normal circumstances, it’s fair to think WVU (5-4, 4-4 Big 12) would have beaten Florida State and Maryland in nonconference play, and how many would be happier at 7-4 than 5-4?

But as we near the end of Year 2, it’s also fair to look at the overall picture for Brown at WVU. Currently, he’s 10-11 and 7-10 in Big 12 play, and his biggest win is … last year’s win at No. 24 Kansas State?

There are built-in excuses with what Dana Holgorsen left the program, which wasn’t much, especially offensively. Thus, the catchphrase “Trust the climb” was born, and many have been willing to wait.

“We’re in Year 2 and we’re a lot better than we were a year ago,” Brown said. “It didn’t show [Saturday], but we’re a lot better than we were a year ago, but we’re a long way from where we need to be to be competing and playing in that championship that’s happening this month.”

The last two games of this season are an opportunity, facing two top 10 teams, to springboard into Brown’s third year in 2021, and the first chance was against the Cyclones. Not only did that not happen, it was probably the worst performance by a Brown-led WVU team.

With the Mountaineers’ chances at the Big 12 title game gone, next week’s game against No. 8 Oklahoma could be a big part in trusting the climb. Brown has a big opportunity to set the fanbase at ease that what he wants to do in Morgantown is truly the right direction for the program.

Losing two staight to end the year, especially if the Mountaineers have a repeat before against OU like it did against the Cyclones, will make many question, fair or not.

And for Brown, I believe he is dedicated to his job here, but the blue bloods could come calling at some point. If that’s to happen, he needs to reach the peak of the climb at WVU.

Tweet @SeanManning_1