By LARRY VAUGHT
Tony Franklin thought Neal Brown was a terrific young coach when he was the offensive coordinator at Troy and added Brown as a wide receivers coach in 2006 after he had worked the three previous years at Massachusetts, Sacred Heart and Delaware.
Brown eventually became the offensive coordinator at Troy after Franklin left and then the coordinator at Texas Tech and Kentucky before returning to Troy as head coach in 2015. Now Brown has just been named the head coach at West Virginia — he will have his introductory press conference Thursday — and no one is happier for him than Franklin, now the Middle Tennessee offensive coordinator.
“I am thrilled for him and his family,” said Franklin, a former UK offensive coordinator. “I think they had a really good coach (Dana Holgorsen) there who was successful and they hired a better one. The last three years Neal has sat, looked and waited to see what is right for him. I think it is a really good job for him. A lot of coaches have won there and I think he is the best coach they will have had.”
Strong praise but Brown — a three-sport star at Boyle County High School and former UK walk-on receiver — won 10 games, including a a bowl win, the last three years and Troy won at LSU and Nebraska. Troy also had a chance to win at Clemson in 2016.
West Virginia lost its final three games last season to Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Syracuse but still finished 8-4. The Moutaineers beat Tennessee 40-14 and Texas 42-41 during the season and scored 56 points in the loss to Oklahoma.
Holgorsen decided to leave West Virginia to become head coach at Houston. It took only a few days for West Virginia to give Brown a six-year, $19-million deal to replace him that more than tripled Brown’s salary.
Brown’s parents still live in Boyle County and couldn’t be happier with his new job.
“Just for me, he ended up with the best job that came open this year and definitely the best fit for him,” his father, Tom Brown, said. “They graduated a bunch of players but I am sure Dana recruited reasonably well because he always did. I think it will be a good situation for him. They have a pretty tough schedule and actually play 11 Power-5 schools (nine Big 12 games along with Missouri and North Carolina State) each of the next two years. That’s highly unusual and tough for any school or coach.”
West Virginia has added 18 players for next season and has the 43rd ranked recruiting class according to ESPN. By comparison, Kentucky’s recruiting class is rated 32nd.
Brown will likely need to find a quarterback — maybe a graduate transfer or a junior college player — but he has a knack for making the offense work. Currently he’s trying to put his staff together and also recruit. It’s a dead period for recruiting but via text message he quickly offer three Kentucky players — Lexington Catholic quarterback Beau Allen, Boyle County receiver/defensive back Reese Smith and Boyle running back/defensive back Landon Bartleson — almost as soon as he got the job at West Virginia.
What makes Brown special — as UK fans know — is what he did after he took the West Virginia job. He went back to Troy and at halftime of Saturday’s basketball game, he thanked Troy fans for “eight great years” he spent there with his family.
School was out but he also tried to see or get in touch with as many Troy players as he could to say goodbye to them personally.
“Neal and his wife are happy. This is what they worked towards doing but some there is still some bittersweetness,” Tom Brown said. “That’s where they first lived when they were married. Two of his three children were born there. It was his first FBS job, first coordinator job, first head coach.
“Troy has been very good to their family. I would like think it has been a pretty even deal with what Neal has done for Troy but I am biased. Troy was a good fit for Neal. Everything fit him and his family and now hopefully the same will be true at West Virginia but he loved being at Troy.”