After AD hired, West Virginia gives Neal Brown another chance
West Virginia football coach Neal Brown will keep his job for the time being, a decision made soon after new athletic director Wren Baker’s hiring was announced.
Brown has a 22-25 record, the worst four-year stretch at West Virginia since the football team went 17-27 under Frank Cignetti from 1976-79.
The Mountaineers won two of their final three games to finish 5-7 season, the second time they failed to become bowl eligible under Brown and the fourth time since 2000. Brown’s West Virginia teams have never cracked the AP Top 25 poll or finished higher than fifth in the Big 12.
But Baker, West Virginia President Gordon Gee, interim athletic director Rob Alsop and others decided to spare Brown, for now. A statement issued by the university gave no specific timetable. Brown has four years remaining on his contract that included about a $17 million buyout if he were fired.
Alsop said he and Gee were impressed with the team’s efforts in the final weeks of the season. Alsop said Baker and 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.”
West Virginia named Baker, the North Texas athletic director, to the same position with the Mountaineers. He replaces Shane Lyons, who was fired earlier this month. Baker was given a six-year contract that will pay him $1.1 million annually, plus incentives, the university said in a statement. Baker will start on 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.
Lyons, who hired Brown in 2019, gave him a contract extension after his only winning season in 2020. Lyons took heat from fans for both the extension and its pricey buyout.
When West Virginia started 0-2 this season with close losses to Pittsburgh and Kansas, Lyons took a wait-and-see approach to Brown. But West Virginia had seen enough of Lyons after nearly eight years on the job. Gee then said that no other changes would be made until after a new athletic director was hired.
West Virginia finished next-to-last in the Big 12 both in scoring at 30.6 points per game while allowing 32.9. A defense that grabbed just four interceptions had been patched together after several key veterans entered the transfer portal early this year.
Baker has been at North Texas since 2016 and Mean Green athletic programs have won 17 conference and division titles since he took over. North Texas plays for the Conference USA football championship on Friday at No. 23 UTSA. The Mean Green will join the American Athletic Conference in July.
Baker, who is from Oklahoma, previously worked at Memphis and Missouri. His North Texas biography touts him as having led record fundraising with the Mean Green and at three other schools.
Baker said he was “incredibly grateful” for the opportunity and that West Virginia “boasts a powerful brand reputation and a storied academic and athletic history. My family and I can’t wait to get to Morgantown to build relationships and help take Mountaineer Athletics to even greater heights.”
Baker will oversee 18 varsity sports and a department budget of more than $90 million.
“When we began this search, we were determined to find someone who could lead in the modern realities of intercollegiate athletics and build on the legacy of his predecessors,” Gee said. “We wanted someone who clearly understood the dynamics of a fast-changing athletics environment and had found success being at the forefront of this new world that includes managing NIL and the portal. We looked at a number of well-qualified candidates and, at the end of the day, Wren met every one of our needs.”