A sticking point during Neal Brown’s four-plus-year tenure at WVU has been the Mountaineers’ offensive playcalling.
Brown made his name in the college coaching ranks as an offensive coordinator at Texas Tech and Kentucky and later as head coach at Troy, calling plays all along the way. And yet, Brown has yet to bring a high-flying offense to Morgantown, and who is calling the plays has seemingly changed every year.
Brown called plays full-time in his first season, 2019, without a true offensive coordinator on staff.
Gerad Parker was WVU’s offensive coordinator in 2020 and 2021 and shared play-calling duties with Brown, but who exactly was calling what plays when was never fully disclosed. The prevailing rumor was that Parker handled red zone play-calling and Brown did everything else.
As he was being introduced as the new offensive coordinator at Notre Dame early last week, Parker provided the clearest answer yet as to what the actual breakdown was.
“A very clear message was put across when I took that job that I would run unit meetings and do a lot of things; I was involved in every facet of creating a game plan,” Parker said during a press conference in South Bend. “During that time, I was offered by Coach Brown an opportunity to call plays at different times in year one. Those would be different moments in red zones and in different areas. When my number was called, be prepared. When it wasn’t, serve the head coach and serve our offense.”
Parker’s official title at WVU was offensive coordinator and wide receivers coach. He was brought to Morgantown after spending a year at Penn State as the receivers coach.
WVU had an 88% success rate (36-41) in the red zone that season and a 65% touchdown rate (35-41).
While play-calling duties were split in his first season, Parker said that things changed during his second year in 2021 and he began calling plays full-time.
“Year two at certain times, things changed for a multitude of reasons,” Parker said, being mindful to all parties involved. “When my number was called, I was prepared to call those games and I called them in entirety. At that point, that’s when things changed to the scope of calling complete games. I was tremendously grateful for that opportunity; it prepared me for what this one (at Notre Dame) is going to be.”
With the Irish, Parker will almost certainly be a full-time play-caller as ND head coach Marcus Freeman’s background is exclusively on the defensive side of the ball. As unconventional and messy as the situation at WVU seems to have been during his two years, Parker said it actually helped him along in his career.
“It was a really good focus for me at West Virginia,” Parker said of handling red zone play-calling. “To be collaborative is something huge. … You want to have a collaborative effort where (assistant coaches) own it. I think doing that at West Virginia helped me to where if the red zone had a bad day on game day, you just didn’t say, ‘Well, I just coached the wideouts or the tight ends.’ If you really own it, it’s on you, too, and that’s how I felt.”
WVU’s offense averaged 26.5 and 25.2 points per game during Parker’s two seasons and he was eventually demoted to make way for Graham Harrell to be hired prior to 2022. Parker eventually went to Notre Dame as tight ends coach before being promoted this offseason.
Harrell was WVU’s full-time play-caller last season, the first season Brown has never called plays, and WVU’s offense averaged 30.6 points. Harrell took a lateral move to Purdue this winter, again creating questions about who will call plays for the Mountaineers this fall.
Running backs coach Chad Scott was promoted to offensive coordinator last month but has never called plays before. Brown discussed who will call plays in 2023, saying he will give Scott the opportunity throughout spring practice before making a decision.
“(Quarterbacks coach Sean) Reagan has play-calling experience, but Chad is going to gain experience in the spring and that’s something we’re going to evaluate post-spring,” Brown said during a press conference last month. “I’ll be heavily involved and I really wasn’t until the last three or four games last year. Every opportunity I’ve had is because of my ability to coach offense. As far as who’s going to call the plays, I’m going to wait and see how the spring goes.”
The 2023 season will undoubtedly be a make-or-break year for Brown’s tenure in Morgantown, and who is calling plays could make a big difference. Whether Brown will leave that responsibility to a first-time coordinator, take it back for himself or create another collaborative system will be something to keep an eye on.