The last 365 days have been nothing short of a Camden Park roller coaster ride for Mountaineer fans, as this time last year most of us were going to bed with visions of Heisman trophies, a shot to play in the BIG XII championship game and a potential berth in the playoff championship.
The absolute zenith of last season’s hype came on November 3 when Grier shot a #HornsDown to the 100,703 fans seated in Austin and lead the boys from Morgantown to a number 7 ranking.
That evening, just about every single person in Mountaineer Nation took to social media bragging on the nerve, sheer awesomeness, and leadership of the Texan who resembles an “on cable version” of Matthew McConaughey, Coach Dana Holgorsen.
Unfortunately, college football is a game of momentum and just as quick as Holgs found some mojo in the opening days of November, the month’s closing would prove to be 180-degrees different.
Oklahoma State and Oklahoma would close out the season defeating the Mountaineers in games that could have been won with a single additional West Virginia touchdown.
Rather than playing in a conference championship and in the College Football Playoff, the ‘Eers were relegated to a bowl so unimportant many of the team’s all stars didn’t even play; but who really cares, the Camping World Bowl was the least attended football game of the entire season — the Youngstown State game even had 17,321 more people in attendance.
The shotty 18-34 loss against former Big East foe Syracuse in the bowl game concluded what was clearly seen as the last great Mountaineer shot for a title game of the decade with a lackluster 8-4 record. And just like that, the praises Mountaineer fans were singing of ole Holgs on the evening of November 3rd were gone and replaced with cursings in less than two month’s time.
New Years in Mountaineer Nation broke with news that the controversial, Red Bull drinking, wild man with crazy hair was leaving Morgantown and in no time, realtor.com was showcasing his Cheat Lake modern mansion for a price tag that was a few more zeroes outside of the budget of most folks in West Virginia.
Love him or hate him, Holgorsen left West Virginia for a school that wasn’t even in a Power Five conference; and when he left, the cupboard was bare. No quarterback, no defense, no special teams, no coaching staff.
Instantly, the administrators of Facebook groups and Mountaineer message boards were dizzy with all the infeuding of the fanbase, all arguing whether or not the school or state could possibly find anyone who possessed the ability to replace such a talented coach.
Ultimately, his replacement was named: A young guy who by every judgment seemed to be Holgorsen’s polar opposite.
While Holgs was born in the plains of Iowa, Neal Brown is from Appalachia.
While Holgs lived the bachelor life, this new guy has a pretty wife and well dressed children.
While Holgs had wild hair and could be seen dropping the F-bomb every other play with drool and snot flying from his face, this new guy’s most embarrassing on the field video was of him dancing for his college.
The summer of 2019 was one filled with great mystery. How would the Mountaineers do under this new coach?
As a lifelong Mountaineer, I feared that many of my fellow fans were far too quick to dump praises and trust in a new guy who had yet to even coach a single game for us.
“This can’t be healthy,” I thought to myself, “The guy hasn’t even coached a single game and they’re already bragging about how he’s West Virginia’s savior, equating him to Nehlen, Bowden and Dabo.
The Bible teaches that we are to “lay hands on no man too quickly”, and going into the James Madison game, I was about as unhopeful as anyone seated in the stands — certainly far less than the obnoxious drunk JMU kid I was blessed by fate to find myself seated alongside. Even at the conclusion of the game, he exited the stadium with far more to feel good about than I did. We looked terrible. “If we play like this, that’ll be the only game we win all season,” I told my wife as we walked to our car with legs bright red from having worn no sunscreen.
The following week, I found myself in the undesired position of believing my fears were right: Our only win for the season was going to come against an FCS team and this boy from Troy was about as overhyped as Y2K.
Then something happened last week against NC State… and it wasn’t that we defeated an undefeated team… No, my father always told me that a blind hog was bound to find a nut sooner or later and perhaps this was it!
Instead, for me, my “wait a second” moment came immediately following a Mountaineer touchdown which made the game 44-27. Rather than kick the extra point to expand the lead to 18, Coach Neal Brown ordered the ball to simply be downed; thus removing any probability of a blocked kick, which would have brought the game within two possessions.
While the commentators mocked him, I said to myself, “That’s why he’s wearing the headset down on the field and you’re talking into a microphone high up in the nose bleeds.”
“This Neal Brown guy really does know football. He’s a level headed chess player, who just defeated an unbeaten ACC team.”
Perhaps there was something to all this “Trust the Climb” talk I’ve been hearing lately.
This week, I had a similar epiphany around the same point in the game.
With 5:04 left in the game, following a Mountaineer touchdown, Brown ordered the team to go for two, this time… recognizing that a two-point conversion would have made the game a two touchdown game.
Unfortunately, this didn’t pan out as we had hoped, but that’s okay, because I got to see a side of Coach Brown I had yet to see this season; the smiling, soft spoken, clean cut family guy was in a rage — before the botched 2-point attempt even began. It was nice to see that the commanding general has some fire and passion in him.
Yet, always the gentleman, Coach Brown took the time to cover his mouth with a piece of paper before unloading on the poor soul on the other end of the headset.
Love him or hate him, it is undeniable that Holgorsen left West Virginia on the eve of one of the biggest rebuilding years we’ve seen in decades — of this there is no question.
Would this Coach Brown guy really be up for the challenges of playing a Power Five schedule, recruiting and handling the business of big league college football? I was one of the few folks who were initially saying, “I doubt it.”
Fast-forward four games into the season and we’re 3-1, including an in-conference road win… Did I mention that we’re currently #1 in the Big XII standings and will remain so until the conclusion of the Texas — Oklahoma St. game… when we’ll then be tied for #1!
Will there be many more defeats for our team in the days ahead? You can bet on it!
Do we still have a lot of growing left to do? Absolutely.
But do we have a solid coach who has proven he can take second-runner up players and coach them, love them, teach them and train them to be winners? I think the results of the last four games speak for itself.
For the first time in a while, I’m excited about the future of Mountaineer football and I’m truly pleased with the guy wearing the headset on the sideline… He gets what it means to be Appalachian and represents the state well; but moreover, he’s proving to be a football genius.
Here’s to you, Coach Brown! We’re proud to have you as West Virginia’s head coach. We #TrustTheClimb!
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