MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Mountaineer football head coach Neal Brown gave his thoughts on how WVU performed in 2022, and looked ahead to the upcoming season on Monday.
“We need to win now,” Brown said while speaking about the defense. “We need to have a winning season.”
He also broached topics such as the transfer portal, coaching staff changes, and how those changes could affect the gameday duties of some of the staff members.
Here are the biggest takeaways from Brown’s press conference:
Reflecting on the 2022 season
West Virginia ended last season on a high note, winning two of its final three games, and sweeping the Sooner State programs for the first time since joining the league. But the team missed out on the postseason and did not achieve the results it was hoping for, finishing with a losing record for the second season in a row and third time in four years under Brown.
“It wasn’t good enough,” Brown said of the 2022 campaign. “It’s on me. I accept it.”
Brown was candid in detailing the areas that led to the Mountaineers not having the type of season they had hoped for. He admitted the transfer portal impacted the team more than he expected, as multiple starters departed the program last offseason.
Offensively, Brown said it came down to what he calls the three E’s: errors, efficiency, and explosive plays.
“We got to eliminate the errors — too many turnovers and too many penalties on the offensive side of the ball,” said Brown. “We’ve got to be much more efficient (on our first play in a series), and then on third-and-medium. And the third E is explosives. We regressed in that, we had been kind of steadily building, we regressed in that a year ago.”
The three E’s could also be attributed to the production on the defensive end, which Brown said was “not up to our standard.” He pointed to areas that WVU had excelled at over the past two seasons that they fell short in last year.
“Like in pass defense, that’s one of our issues in ’22. We were first in the league in ’20 in pass defense. We were third in ’21,” said Brown. “Explosive plays, huge issue for us this year. Well, we were first in fewest explosive plays given up in ’20, and we were second in fewest explosive plays given up in ’21.”
The football coaching staff has gone through some changes since the Mountaineers defeated Oklahoma State in the regular season finale.
Recently, Chad Scott was promoted to offensive coordinator, and the Mountaineers hired Blaine Stewart, the son of former head coach Bill Stewart, to be the tight ends coach, which shifted Sean Reagan back to quarterbacks coach.
On Scott’s promotion: “It’s a promotion he earned,” Brown said. “I think you’ve seen him, and the way his guys have produced, and he’s been our most consistent recruiter, not only positionally, but from an area standpoint. And he’s dynamic in front of the room. Guys want to follow him.”
On Blaine Stewart: “I had an opportunity to go up and watch him coach [with the Steelers], and a lot of our staff’s had the opportunity to go up and watch him coach,” said Brown. “Multiple staff members brought me Blaine’s name and said, ‘Listen, this guy can coach.'”
West Virginia’s fifth-year head coach also spoke to the return of Bilal Marshall, who will coach the wide receivers. Brown stated that Marshall not only helps the Mountaineers in the film room and on the field, but also will be a good recruiter for the program, as well.
Why a turnaround in ’23 starts in the offseason
There’s a cliche in sports that wins and losses aren’t attained during the season, rather they are gained during the offseason with all the work and growth that players and coaches must make.
While it’s true that WVU can’t mark down any wins on its schedule after a good workout or a fantastic intra-squad scrimmage, the belief is that by stacking up a high volume of both individual and team successes over the next seven to eight months those wins will materialize in the fall.
For Brown, he’s looking no further than his own conference as a prime example of that.
“If you look at TCU, they had some portal additions, but yeah they keep their guys. They lost some key guys, but the guys that made the biggest improvements — the two linebackers, the five offensive linemen, Miller at running back. You know what I mean? The guys that really made a big jump over that nine-to-ten-month period from them being 5-7 to all of sudden they go on a run in the Big 12 right,” said Brown.
Brown acknowledged that especially in today’s age of college football, teams have to get better through the transfer portal. But it’s the in-house guys that make the difference.
“The group of guys that are already in your program, their maturation, their development from the time we left Stillwater to the time we get to State College, like that’s going to be the defining moment if we’re going to be a better football team is their development,” added Brown.
The head coach also gave some thoughts on some of the players that West Virginia has brought in via the transfer portal this offseason. Some of his thoughts are below.
Devin Carter, WR (NC State): “We really felt that we needed to add a (number) one (receiver). And we beat a lot of really good people on him. … He’s been productive, he’s had consistency, and what we believe is we can even make him more productive than what he’s been.”
Ja’Shaun Poke, WR (Kent State): “He’s going to play inside receiver. We really felt like we needed to add a returner in this cycle in the portal. … I think he’s got a chance to really improve us there.”
Kole Taylor, TE (LSU): “(We had a) high priority for a pass-receiving tight end. And that’s something that we’ve got to utilize more in our offense. … Kole’s 6’6″, 6’7″, and he’s going to give us that dimension. And that’s something that we really pinpointed.”
Brown stated that he and the staff will look to add another player in the secondary, another wide receiver, and a player or two on both sides of the line in the transfer portal when it re-opens in the spring. He stated the roster currently sits at 80 scholarship players. WVU can have a maximum of 85.