MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Wren Baker, the 13th director of athletics at West Virginia University, will be “in the trenches” evaluating WVU’s football program as he gets his bearings in Morgantown.
Baker and WVU President E. Gordon Gee spoke and fielded questions for roughly 40 minutes on various topics surrounding Baker’s background, his philosophies, and the path forward for West Virginia’s athletics programs.
Both also fielded questions about the current and future status of Mountaineer football head coach Neal Brown, who it was recently announced will remain as the head coach of the program.
The decision to retain Brown for his fifth season was announced the same day, Nov. 30, as the announcement of Baker’s hiring.
“Additionally, we have also had discussions with Coach Brown and our new Director of Athletics, Wren Baker, about our next steps as a department,” interim AD Rob Alsop said in a statement released by the university. “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.”
Baker said Monday that he and Brown have had “several conversations” in recent days.
“I look forward to getting here and working with Coach Brown and doing a thorough assessment of the program, so we can determine, ‘What [do] we need? Where are our gaps? What hurdles can I eliminate? What resources do we need to go and procure? Because the football program is obviously important to the university and to the state,” he said.
The new director of athletics and VP added that he’s excited to work with Brown and the football program. His first day in Morgantown came just 24 hours before being introduced.
Brown ended his fourth season in charge of the Mountaineer football program by winning two of the final three games. West Virginia secured its first win over Oklahoma since joining the Big 12, and ended a seven-game losing streak to Oklahoma State in the regular-season finale. WVU fell to Pitt in the season opener, defeated Virginia Tech three weeks later, but then lost four of its next five contests.
“We have had a challenging football year, as we all know,” said Gee, who noted the strength of WVU’s schedule, which included 11 contests against Power 5 opponents and ranked 27th in the country. “The fact that we’ve gone 5-7 in a very competitive environment is something that obviously I take a lot of pride in.”
Gee stated he spoke to “a lot of people” about the head coaching situation. According to him, the feedback he received was positive.
“Almost to a person, they said that they believed our coach had great opportunities in front of him and that we needed to try to provide the kind of support and instruction that would allow him to be successful,” said Gee.
West Virginia’s president stated that the football head coaching position was a topic of conversation with each candidate for the open director of athletics position. According to Gee, the overwhelming response was that candidates wanted a chance to work with Brown for at least one season.
“In the end, we did talk with Wren, but he had already indicated his willingness to continue to work and [his] enthusiasm about working with the coach, and that was very important to me,” said Gee.
The 78-year-old also spoke highly of Brown’s ability to connect with Mountain State natives.
“Few people have connected more clearly with West Virginia, and West Virginia natives, than has Neal Brown,” Gee said. “He came in and embraced us, and this is a moment in which we’re going to embrace each other now.”
Baker, who spent one season as a men’s basketball head coach in 2006 at Division II Rogers State, believes his coaching background can assist in his evaluation of the football program.
“I think I understand how coaches think a little bit. I understand how to communicate with them. I understand when they need to feel support,” said Baker. “I look forward to getting in, and really working with coach Brown and learn everything I can about the program. And I’m confident that we’ll, together, figure out where we need to go.”