Dec. 1—MORGANTOWN — Mere hours after announcing the hire of new athletic director Wren Baker, the WVU athletic department announced that Neal Brown will remain as the Mountaineers' head football coach.
"Over the past several weeks, President (Gordon) Gee and I have discussed the future of WVU Athletics and our football program with a number of individuals and talented athletic administrators from across the country, " interim AD Rob Alsop said in a statement. "We were also impressed with the effort of our team the last few weeks. Additionally, we have also had discussions with Coach Brown and our new Director of Athletics, Wren Baker, about our next steps as a department. In fact, Wren and Coach Brown have already connected relating to the future of the program. As a result of all of these efforts and discussions, it is clear that Coach Brown should continue to lead our football program."
Brown's status as WVU's coach has been up in the air as the 2022 season fell far short of expectations. When the firing of former athletic director Shane Lyons was announced on Nov. 14, Gee and Alsop, also the vice president for strategic initiative, both said that Brown's fate would be decided by the incoming AD.
The biggest early decision that Baker was expected to make seems to have taken no time at all, however, as the department has already committed to keeping Brown. Baker is not scheduled to begin his duties as athletic director until Dec. 19.
"With new energy that comes with new leadership, it is time to rally around Wren's leadership as we move forward quickly to recruit more top student-athletes to our program and continue to develop the incredibly talented group of returning players who are an integral part of our Mountaineer family, " Alsop said. "I know that Wren will be focusing a lot of his time and attention on how we improve our results on the football field and across a number of our programs.
"I will continue to work with Wren, Neal, and the rest of our Athletics program to ensure a smooth transition to the next era for our Athletics Department."
Despite grumblings from the fan base, both the cost and timing of a potential Brown dismissal would have been problematic for WVU.
If fired this offseason, Brown would have been owed a buyout of approximately $16.7 million. In addition, any new coaching hire to replace Brown would have been put well behind the eight-ball for the 2023 season as the NCAA transfer portal is set to open next week and the early signing period for football is less than a month away.
Brown is 22-25 in four seasons as WVU's head coach. The team finished 5-7 (3-6 Big 12) this season, missing a bowl game for the second time during Brown's tenure. The Mountaineers finished strong, however, winning two of their last three games against Oklahoma and Oklahoma State.
The team's high-water mark under Brown was a 6-4 record during the COVID-shortened 2020 season that included a win in the Liberty Bowl. Otherwise, the team finished all three of its other seasons under Brown with seven losses.
A large talking point surrounding Brown has been the contract extension he signed after the 2020 season with only an 11-11 record with the Mountaineers at the time. Lyons, in his only public appearance since his firing, defended the extension and said he would not fire Brown if he were still AD during an appearance on MetroNews Talkline Monday morning.
"I think he checks every box that we're looking for in a head coach., " Lyons told host Hoppy Kercheval. "Unfortunately, the big box is he needs to win more football games and I believe that's coming in the future. Right now he's sitting a little bit below a.500 record, but you look at it and you say, 'can we build off of this ?' And I think the answer's yes, we can build off of it."
Retaining Brown not only saves WVU from paying his buyout, but it should help keep intact what looks to be the team's best recruiting class of Brown's tenure. 247Sports and Rivals both rate WVU's 19-man class inside the top 30 in the nation for 2023. The early signing period for football opens on Wednesday, Dec. 21 and closes two days later.