Neal Brown has proven he can speak with a calm demeanor during the three years he’s been the head football coach at WVU.
But an impromptu news conference Thursday showed a side of Brown that was disappointed, sad and frustrated as he announced star defensive lineman Akheem Mesidor was entering the transfer portal.
Much has been made about the players who have left the team the last 14 months, with many starters deciding to go elsewhere instead of finishing their careers with the Mountaineers.
But perhaps outside of Tykee Smith, who was an All-American the year before he chose to leave for Georgia, Mesidor is the most impactful name to leave. He had 70 tackles and 9 1/2 sacks the last two years.
“Candidly, I was surprised,” Brown said. “Every program in the country is dealing with some type of loss in the portal, and we’ve had our share. In some of our cases, it was in the best interest of both parties, and some, I would have preferred them to stay but I understood their reasoning.
“Sometimes, you sense them coming, but not this one. Akheem is a great kid and a great player. I love Akheem Mesidor. I’m not angry about it, I’m not upset. The best emotion I could use is hurt, or maybe just sad.”
Brown said Mesidor was in team meetings and was at practice Tuesday, and he found out Tuesday night that Mesidor was entering the portal.
“I hurt for Akheem, too, because I don’t think this is a good long-term decision,” Brown said. “In today’s college football world, these men are surrounded by so much noise and pulled in so many directions that it’s hard to decipher from right and wrong. There are things in our profession that aren’t good and they shouldn’t be out there, but they are.”
And while Brown can’t say it — he chose the high road and said what needed to be said without directly calling out the problem — the NCAA has created a storm with the one-time transfer and Name, Image and Likeness (NIL) rulings coming out at the same time.
More than ever, outside influences with the promises of stardom at a bigger school, as well as a big payday to go along with it, are causing athletes to make decisions that is destroying the fabric of college athletics.
This isn’t to say athletes don’t deserve to get what they deserve — if someone is willing to pay up, you’d be stupid not to take it.
The problem is tampering and making promises to athletes who are already at another school. For a program like WVU, it doesn’t stand a chance against the likes of Alabama, Georgia, Ohio State, Oklahoma and Texas, with high-profile donors ready to throw money at the best of the best.
Mesidor was a 3-star prospect with the class of 2020 and developed during his time with the Mountaineers the last two seasons.
“I hurt because of the investment and the relationship,” Brown said. “I hurt for coach (Jordan) Lesley and for coach (A.J.) Jackson. Akheem worked extremely hard and is extremely talented, but those two really helped him go from a 3-star recruit who had a lot of potential to a kid who was a freshman all-American and all-Big 12 player.”
Finding a fix from the NCAA will be even harder than pulling teeth, since the organization has shown a lack of urgency to do just about anything for decades. Its most important ruling in recent memory was allowing NIL, but it was clearly made without any long-term effects in mind. Simply put, it’s the Wild, Wild West out there.
But Brown isn’t wavering on his belief with how he is running the program on the product that will hit the field against Pitt on Sept. 2.
“There is going to be all of this negativity, I know that,” Brown said. “I sit here more resolute, more confident and more committed in my beliefs on how to run a program than I’ve ever been. I believe in pouring into the student-athletes. I believe in going all in. I believe in building an infrastructure and surrounding them with support and staff that serves and develops them, and create a culture of accountability here. There’s going to be days that are tough where you lose guys you’re really invested in. But if you do it that way, there are going to be a lot more success stories. We’ve had five practices [this spring] and this is the most excitement we’ve had.
“The best is yet to come, and I really believe that. In 154 days, we’re going line up at Heinz Field and play with a damn good football team and with guys who believe and are committed to this university and this state, and they’re going to play their ass off for the name on the front and on the back.”
If this trend continues, the Mountaineers will rarely see a star player develop — and stay — in Morgantown, and that is a hard truth for WVU fans to accept.