After a tough debut season as West Virginia’s head football coach, Neal Brown is ready to get back to work for the 2020 spring season.
The Mountaineers missed bowl eligibility for the first time in six years with a 5-7 record while truly struggling in all phases of the game. On the surface, a December without football is a negative, but Brown says he and his staff turned it into a positive.
“I think that the break that we had during bowl season was really positive for me as the head coach, me personally — just because you do so much reflection,” Brown said. “And everything from January, which is kind of late in the process, through signing day was really just about next, next, next, next. So what happens is you get that time to reflect, and you’ve gotta look inward, you take ownership of what you could have done better — the same thing that I did with the players, what do we need to sustain, what do we need to improve — and for sure, I think now we have a better grasp of who we want to be.”
The renovations that currently engulf the Milan Puskar Center are metaphorical for the changes that have come (and are coming) to Brown’s program. For one, his reflection led him to bring in Gerad Parker as his new offensive coordinator, and Brown says his addition has already brought improvements.
“A year ago, I felt like [offensive players] were waiting on me a lot,” he explained. “Now, Gerad is leading that room so when I’m called out to do head coaching stuff, there’s a true leader in there, there’s an offensive coordinator.”
While Brown is excited about Parker’s introduction to the program (along with those of new outside linebackers coach Dontae Wright and special teams coordinator Jeff Koonz), he says there wasn’t enough time to fully outline all of the changes to the program from a year ago.
The Mountaineers are now turning their attention to the upcoming spring season with a focus on growth and marked improvement. Without any outside competition to worry about, WVU’s next 15 practices for Brown to work and grow with his squad.
“Spring ball, fall camp [are] my favorite times of the year, selfishly, because we get to teach,” he said. “You’re not necessarily preparing for an opponent, you get to actually teach fundamentals and be a teacher.”
Brown outlined some of the main areas in which he hopes his squad improves this spring season, and here they are in part:
- 2019 margin: -6, 7th in Big 12
When a team posts a positive turnover margin, the analytics nearly guarantee that they will have a winning season. One can point to several areas in which they struggled, but it’s no surprise that the Mountaineers had a losing season with their -6 margin.
The bulk of their 20 turnovers were interceptions, so Brown says that will especially be the focus this spring.
- Offense rank: 10th
- Defense rank: 7th
- Field goal percentage: 61.9, 9th in Big 12
Not only did the Mountaineers leave lots of points on the board in scoring territory last season, but they also struggled to stop opponents from scoring as well. Of the 346 points allowed by the Mountaineers, 246 came from the red zone, including 30 touchdowns.
Their struggles were compounded by the fact they couldn’t force a single turnover in the red zone, while giving up a pair of their own.
Rushing the football
- 2019: 73.2 yards per game, 10th in Big 12
This one is a given. West Virginia football was not just the worst rushing teams in the Big 12, but they were also ranked 128th out of 130 FBS teams. The Mountaineers did make some improvement on the ground as the season went on, but there’s a lot of ground to make up before they get to where they need to be.
“I think we’ve got a good plan for that,” Brown said. “Time will tell, we won’t know about that until we line up and play against Florida State.”