For most schools if you lost your star quarterback and top two wide receivers to the NFL, that would be cause for concern. Add a new head coach to the mix and you’ve got chaos.
But not when Neal Brown is the collegiate version of Sean McVay. An offensive genius who sneakily has an impressive defensive record. Neal Brown has been waiting in the shadows for his big head coaching opportunity for the last 11 years.
College Days at Kentucky
Much like McVay, Brown comes from some of the smartest offensive brains in football. Brown played college football at the University of Kentucky, where the offensive coordinator (OC) was soon-to-be famous Mike Leach. Brown would only spend one season with Leach before he took the OC job at Oklahoma, but the Air Raid offense was already sculpted by that time.
Mike Leach and head coach Hal Mumme had birthed the modern day Air Raid offense years earlier at Voldasta state in the early 90’s. They would go 40-17-1 in their time with the Blazers. Mumme would then take the Kentucky Wildcats to a 20-26 record over 4 seasons. This may not seem like a fantastic record, but he took over a program that went 9-24 the three previous seasons. To add to their success, the number one overall pick in the 1999 NFL draft Tim Couch, molded by Mumme and Leach.
In Browns second season at UK his wide receivers coach was Sonny Dykes. In his third year Kentucky’s OC was Tony Franklin. Who is Sonny Dykes and Tony Franklin? Sonny Dykes and Tony Franklin would go on to be the head coach and the OC at the Cal Golden Bears from ’13-’16, respectively. The team struggled to ever gain a ton of momentum and Sonny would finish his career 19-30. However, using the Air Raid offense they learned in the 90’s they were able to develop their quarterback Jared Goff into the number one overall pick in the 2016 NFL draft. Not a bad couple of coaches to learn from.
Transfer to Umass
Neal Brown transferred to University of Massachusetts for the 2001 and 2002 seasons. Once again he was coached by an offensive genius. Head Coach Mark Whipple has an outstanding offensive coaching career, even though you’ve probably never heard of him. In 1988 he became the head coach of the University of New Haven. In 1992 they went 12-1, scoring 50 points a game and averaging 587 yards a game. They would back that up in 1993 going 11-1, scoring 52 points and 560 yards a game. In ’94 he left to coach at Brown University. Even there Whipple’s offense would shatter school records through his tenure. Whipple moved on to Umass in 1998 and the success continued. They would win the 1998 D1-AA championship and break over 40 school records along the way. He eventually would move on to be an assistant coach for the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2004, working directly with Ben Roethlisberger as the Steelers went on to win the super bowl.
The short of it is, everywhere Neal Brown played in college, there were coaches who had done, or would go on to do, extraordinary things. Tim Couch and Jared Goff both were taken number one, being coached by Mike Leach or a understudy of Mike Leach. And this is just the beginning of Neal Browns career.
I know I didn’t cover much about the history Mike Leach. I assume you already know who he is, and if you don’t, I would need an entire article to scratch the surface of his career. But if you do want that, let me know in the comments and Ill make it happen.
The Early Coaching Years
After graduating from Umass Neal Brown would stay on as a graduate assistant, continuing to learn from his former coach Mark Whipple. He would then move to Sacred Heart in ’04 as QB/WR coach, and Delaware in ’05 as a WR coach. In ’06 his coaching career would start to take off. He signed on with the staff of legendary coach Larry Blakeney. Blakeney was the head coach of Troy University from ’91 to ’14, with an impressive record of 178–113–1. Larry was the coach when Troy University transitioned from D2 to D1-AA, and then D1-A.
Originally a WR coach, Neal Brown had worked his way up to OC/QB coach for the ’08 and ’09 seasons. This made him the youngest coordinator in all of FBS. At this time, coaches around the league were starting to take notice of the young offensive minded coach.
Power Five Coaching Jobs
In ’10 Neal Brown would move to Texas Tech to take the offensives coordinator job. From ’10 to ’12 the Red Raiders would average 33.1, 33.8, and 37.5 points per game (ppg). Each season would rank in the nations top 25 ppg. The average yard per game was increasing each season. The Texas Tech job put Brown’s name on the map, but being that Texas Tech always has a high powered offense, there was more to prove.
In ’13 and ’14, Brown was the offensive coordinator at Kentucky. This was were he would really show what his offensive brain could do. Prior to Browns arrival, Kentucky scored 15.8 ppg in ’11, and 17.9 in ’12. Brown’s first season at Kentucky they would improve slightly to 20.5 ppg. Good for 108th in the nation, however, after a full off season with the team Brown would turn things around. In ’14 the Kentucky Wildcats averaged 29.2 ppg in the SEC made up of a roster consisting of every recruit who didn’t get into any other school. He was able to put up Big 12 offensive numbers vs SEC defenses. That’s what Neal Brown can do with an offense.
First Head coaching Job
The next chapter of Brown’s life is when he really flexed his football powers. Taking over for his former boss, Larry Blakeney, Brown would head coach the Troy Trojans from ’15 to ’18, going 35-16 in that time. Including three straight 10+ win seasons. His first season would be a small step back for the school going 4-8 and averaging 27.9 ppg. But like his time in Kentucky, give Neal Brown an off season and he’ll right the ship.
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It would be wrong to talk about Brown’s time with Troy University and to skip over one of the biggest upsets in the ’17 season. On September 30th, 2017 the Troy Trojans went into Death Valley and murdered the #25 ranked team in the nation, the LSU Tigers. Troy led 24-7 before LSU mounted a comeback to bring it to 24-21, only to see their hope fade as Troy intercepted a pass to end LSU’s comeback attempt. The small school from the Sun Belt knocked off the big dog from the SEC.
The Future of West Virginia
So what can we expect in the Neal Brown era? Lots of offense.
But we already have that?
Neal Brown is different. He’s been shaped and molded by more offensive geniuses then Dana Holgerson has bowl wins. It will still be the Air Raid, but it’ll be a better Air Raid. Neal Brown gets more out of his players then Holgerson ever did. The proof is in his numbers at Kentucky and Troy.
Well what about a defense?
Neal Brown didn’t go 35-16 by scoring 40 and letting up 38.
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But its just the Sun Belt. He can’t sustain that in the Big 12.
Well, Neal Brown was working with the kind of talent that goes to Troy and play in the Sun Belt. That means he was coaching against teams like Texas State, who also work with the same caliber of talent that would play in the Sun Belt. When coaching a team with equal talent, he got WAY more out of his players then any other coach in the conference was.
If an offensive minded coach could get a team of 1 and 2 star recruits to play as the number 11 defense in the nation, what do you think he could do with real talent? Sure, Oklahoma is harder to game plan against then University of Southern Alabama. But the same ’17 season, Holgerson ‘s defense was giving up 31.5 ppg, 90th in the nation. He doesn’t need to coach up the best defense in the nation. They just need to do better then they have been. I’m not a math wizard, but if the Mountaineers could split the difference and only give up 25 ppg, do you know what you get? A better defense then conference champs Oklahoma. I’ll take that.
Neal Brown has coached in big games. Beating LSU on the road. Going 3-0 in bowl games. Now he’s going to take an already successful offense and get even more out of them. Then he’s going to take a defense that has struggled and turn it into a unit teams worry about. Sounds like a conference championship caliber team to me.