It was a long winter, made longer by the Mountaineers’ failure to reach bowl eligibility. Now, West Virginia football heads into Spring practice looking to continue their climb. Based on recent comments, Head Coach Neal Brown is focused on moving the Mountaineers forward.
Time for Reflection
In his remarks late last week, Brown told the media that, while he hated to see Winter extended by the lack of a bowl game, he also used that time for meaningful self reflection. Given that the team’s “entire focus is growth,” this comment should not surprise. But Brown did not equivocate when saying the team “did not get the results” they wanted last year.
As a result, Brown said that he had to “go into self reflection mode” and focus on “how we can get better.” The extra break, to Brown, proved a positive for him both personally and as the head coach because of that reflection. During that time, as he asks his players to do, Brown really “took ownership on what [he] could have done better.” Indeed, a lot of that energy focused on his and the team’s realizing “who we want to be.”
We talked a lot last year about the Mountaineers really honing in on that blue-collar mentality. Obviously, Brown want to continue to craft that identity as he moves the Mountaineers forward. As a result, he has developed a plan to improve the running game and the offensive line. As he said during Big XII media days last season, Brown wants to run the ball well.
To implement that plan, however, Brown made one big change that results from his self reflection. He admitted that he needed to do a better job at managing his offensive staff. “A lot of guys,” Brown reflected, “were waiting on me.” As a result, he continued, those guys “weren’t as prepared as they needed to be” until later in the week. His hire of offensive coordinator Gerad Parker from Penn State looks to address that problem. Parker “has the vision” necessary to lead that room.
Mountaineers Moving Forward
In addition to the hire of Parker, the Mountaineers added two more members of the staff. First, the Mountaineers hired Dontae Wright to coach the outside linebackers. Wright, Brown said “is really a teacher.” Brown added that Wright “relates well to all types of kids.” No doubt these qualities will serve the team well as the Mountaineers move forward.
West Virginia also hired Jeff Koonz from Mississippi to coach the inside linebackers. Koonz already had a relationship with a lot of the current staff, according to Brown. And Koonz is a great teacher according to the head coach. Koonz will also serve as the Mountaineers’ special teams coordinator, and Brown looks forward to what Koonz will do in that role.
Brown said that Wright, Koonz, and Parker will all “add something to recruiting.” He added that we have already seen some of that come to fruition. Brown also offered that Parker is “the best wide receivers coach in the country.”
As a result of the additions and the development of the players this offseason, Brown said he is “excited about where we’re going.” Though he told players last year that he was sure they would be great (the only question was when), he says that his belief in this team “is stronger now than it was a year ago.” Brown likes the energy the team has given over winter workouts. More importantly, however, Brown said that the players are growing in the “key areas” of “discipline, accountability, mental toughness, and competitive character.”
How The Mountaineers Will Get There
Brown said the staff will “tweak” the offense and improve the running game. But the “fundamental beliefs (of the offense) won’t change.” Instead, Brown and staff will focus on simplifying some things and going “back to basics.”
Brown cautioned fans and media not to expect drastic improvement in the running game. He admitted that the numbers were bad last season. But he said that we should expect incremental and marginal improvements there. As a whole, however, Brown expressed no doubt that “we’re going to be better” on offense.
Prior to winter workouts, Brown and staff prepared a personalized improvement plan for each player. Because the staff cannot work directly with the players during the winter, however, Brown said that players must take it upon themselves to work hard to implement those improvement plans. Brown lamented that, at this level, “we are limited in skill development.” Nonetheless, he says that with the personalized plans, there are always plenty of surprises and a few disappointments once spring drills and practices begin.
As the coaches start seeing the results of the players’ effort, we can expect to see and hear more specific details about the team’s improvement. Until then, however, Brown seems confident that the team is placing more trust and confidence in the staff and, more importantly, in each other. Those, of course, remain the pillars of team football. Indeed, team chemistry is the lynch pin of the blue-collar football Brown seeks to employ. If his initial confidence is any indication, fans should anticipate an improved product to hit the field in Atlanta in September.