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COLUMN: The zipline is broken on Neal Brown’s climb at WVU following loss to Kansas

Four seasons into the Neal Brown era, an era that has had WVU under .500, there was always someone preaching patience for the head coach.

Most of the time, it was for good reason.

Dana Holgorsen left the cupboard bare, as we’ve heard hundreds of times since 2019.

The COVID year stunted the program’s growth under Brown in 2020.

NIL and the transfer portal changed the way college football is played and programs like WVU will suffer.

But Saturday’s 55-42 overtime loss to Kansas at Milan Puskar Stadium may have been the moment the zipline broke and brought Brown’s “climb” plummeting to below sea level.

“I apologize to our fans. Tonight was not good enough,” Brown said.

There comes a time when you just have to win football games. Losing to your biggest rival, a game that hasn’t been played in over a decade, is bad enough.

Losing to Kansas, as improved as the Jayhawks may be, at home in a night game, the first game under the lights in four years, is simply inexcusable.

The perception of the program under this coaching staff is in a dark place.

Brown seemed like a no-brainer, slam-dunk hire when it was official just after New Year’s Day in 2019. He won 10 games in three straight seasons at Troy and brought a family environment with him, along with an Appalachian twang the fanbase could relate to.

The atmosphere off the field, with the exception of a slew of transfer, seems positive. It’s a stark contrast compared to what it was under Holgorsen for eight years.

But Holgorsen teams won more often than they lost. And in the end, that’s all that matters.

Brown is now 17-20 over the last four seasons. This is also WVU’s first 0-2 start since 1979, the last season under Frank Cignetti Sr. — who sadly passed away Saturday at age 84 — before Don Nehlen took over in 1980.

“I get the disappointment. We lost two games right there at the end of both games,” Brown said. “One in overtime and one right there at the end. I get the frustration. I promise you that there is no one more frustrated than me. Not that that’s going to make [the fans] feel any better, but I get their frustration.”

Brown cannot send out rallying cries over social media about how hungry the team is after losing to Pitt, and then the defense failed to stop the KU offense on seven of 10 possessions.

You can’t rally the fanbase when you continue to muff punts when your defense actually gets a stop.

You can’t rally the fanbase when you commit penalties in the red zone to stop a drive dead in its tracks.

There are 10 games left this season with another rival — a Thursday night at Virginia Tech — coming up in 11 days.

The notion Brown’s seat was warm seemed silly to start this season, but the temperature is cranked up to an all-time high right now.

The next three weeks will tell the story and will likely decide Brown’s fate in Morgantown.

Of course, though, there are $16 million reasons to believe without a catastrophic failure this season, Brown will be back in 2023.

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