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Brown brings lighthearted coaching style to West Virginia

January 10, 2019
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West Virginia University's new NCAA college football head coach Neal Brown gestures during a press conference in Morgantown, W.Va., Thursday, Jan. 10, 2019. (Craig Hudson/The Charleston Gazette-Mail via AP

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (AP) — New West Virginia coach Neal Brown’s lighthearted approach to football is forever captured in a 2016 dance video at Troy.

Brown dabbed while his players and assistants showed off their moves in the video that was part of a spring competition among Troy athletic coaching staffs.

Brown’s squad won.

“My 10-year-old said I was way off,” Brown said Thursday at his introductory news conference at West Virginia. “That video was supposed to be shown one time at the awards ceremony and never come out of the vault again.

“It may be the most watched video in Troy football history.”

It’s that fun atmosphere that Brown holds dear and carries with him to Morgantown. He was hired last Saturday to replace Dana Holgorsen, who was named the coach at Houston.

“I just don’t want to be miserable,” Brown said. “I look at so many people in this profession, the pressure is high. But at the end of the day, we’re coaching football. C’mon, I’m around young people all day. I approach it that way. Let’s have fun. I think if you look at what Clemson’s done. There’s nobody having more fun than Dabo Swinney right now.”

Brown is bringing some of the fun with him. Troy defensive coordinator Vic Koenning will have the same role with the Mountaineers, and a few other assistant hires made by Brown will be announced once their contracts are signed.

Koenning would rather not be involved in any more videos. The 2016 one was done to his chagrine.

“I’ve really only danced a few times in my life, and that was just to get my wife to go out with me,” he said.

Koenning does plan to sing. John Denver’s “Take Me Home, Country Roads” is played on the stadium speakers after every West Virginia home game.

“I grew up a John Denver fan, so I don’t have to worry about learning the verbiage,” he said. “I’m not going to have to learn that fight song, I promise you.”

Brown will be tasked with competing for a Big 12 championship that the Mountaineers have failed to snare since joining the league in 2012.

It might not happen right away. Brown inherits a team that finished 8-4 and faces a rebuilding year in 2019 with the departures of quarterback Will Grier, receivers David Sills V and Gary Jennings, linebacker David Long and offensive tackle Yodny Cajuste.

Just don’t tell that to Brown, who went 35-16 in four seasons at Troy, including 3-0 in bowl games. He teams won at LSU in 2017 and at Nebraska this past season and lost 30-24 at Clemson in 2016, when the Tigers also won the national championship.

“Our expectations for our student-athletes is going to be extremely high,” Brown said.

Brown said a school’s culture, vision and passion have been important to him wherever he’s coached. He said West Virginia “fits my DNA.”

Brown and Holgorsen are descendants of the pass-happy Air Raid offense tree that stems from former Kentucky coach Hal Mumme and Washington State’s Mike Leach. Both Brown and Holgorsen have used the running game to balance that out.

Brown knows about the Big 12 after serving as quarterbacks coach at Texas Tech from 2010 to 2012. He then was offensive coordinator at Kentucky for two years before being hired at Troy as one of the youngest head coaches in the FBS.

West Virginia athletic director Shane Lyons said that as he entered the interview process, “it was very clear and evident” Brown was going to be hired.

“We talked about a number of things — the brand of football that he plays,” Lyons said. “He likes to throw the ball. His teams have been known for their defense as much as their offenses. His team plays with a chip on their shoulder, with a blue-collar mentality.”

Under Koenning, West Virginia will likely abandon the 3-3-5 defensive scheme used extensively over the past decade, including under previous defensive coordinator Tony Gibson. Troy had the second-best rushing defense in the Sun Belt Conference this past season, allowing an average of 129 yards per game.

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