MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (AP) — The early part of the 2022 schedule was supposed to be West Virginia’s best opportunity at putting together only the second winning season under fourth-year coach Neal Brown.
Instead, fans are in an uproar over two close losses and the Mountaineers’ first 0-2 start since 1979, with many pleading for a coaching change.
West Virginia athletic director Shane Lyons is watching — and at least willing to see how things play out.
“I know and deeply care that our fans are frustrated with the start of the football season, but so are our coaches and student-athletes, who have busted their tails getting ready for the year,” Lyons said in a statement Monday to The Associated Press. “As athletics director, I am as disappointed as the fans, but I see how much our coaches and players care and want to win and make our fans proud.”
In April 2021, Brown was given a two-year contract extension through the 2026 season. At the time, Lyons cited the “upward trajectory of the program and its culture.”
That trajectory is now on a different path.
“Everyone involved knows that the on-field results have not met expectations and absolutely no one is satisfied,” Lyons said in the statement. “There are 10 games left in the season and the focus is still on getting the results that we all expect.”
There already has been one prominent firing in college football this season: Nebraska axed Scott Frost on Sunday after a 1-2 start and a 16-31 record three games into his fifth season.
Brown is 17-20. His teams have finished no higher than fifth in the Big 12 Conference. Under him, West Virginia has yet to be ranked.
If Brown is let go before the end of the season, his buyout is a whopping $20 million, one of the highest in college football. It drops to $16.7 million if he’s fired after Dec. 31.
A week ago, Brown put out a video on social media after a loss to No. 23 Pittsburgh, asking fans not to give up on the team. But many went on social media after the Kansas game, joining those who have abandoned the coach.
“I get the disappointment,” Brown said Saturday. “We lose two games right there at the end in both games, one in overtime and one right there at the end. I get the frustration. I promise you that there is no one more frustrated than me. Not that that is going to make them (the fans) feel any better, but I get their frustration.“
West Virginia will get the chance to start anew Saturday when it hosts Towson (2-0) of the Championship Subdivision.
The players aren’t about to give up on the season.
“Definitely disappointing, but we’re not, like, discouraged,” wide receiver Bryce Ford-Wheaton said. “There’s still 10 guaranteed games left. We can choose to bow up and flip this thing or feel sorry for ourselves and go down the wrong path, which we’re not going to do.”
The Mountaineers had high hopes on offense after the addition of offensive coordinator Graham Harrell and the arrival of transfer quarterback JT Daniels from Georgia. West Virginia is averaging 36.5 points, so the offense isn’t necessarily the issue, although late interceptions played a role in the outcomes.
The defense didn’t adequately replace several starters who entered the transfer portal after a 6-7 finish in 2021. The unit lost its top five tacklers, including top tackler Josh Chandler-Semedo. West Virginia is allowing 401.5 yards per game, which is 93rd among Bowl Subdivision teams.
In the Backyard Brawl, West Virginia had the lead and punted in the fourth quarter rather than go for it on fourth down with less than a yard to go in Panthers territory — a decision Brown continued to defend. Pittsburgh quickly drove 98 yards for the tying touchdown.
On Saturday, Kansas averaged 6.2 yards per rush, converted 11 of 15 times on third down and came back from a 21-7 deficit.
“We didn’t tackle very well,” Brown said. “We did some things a little bit better in the second half, but it was a track meet. We didn’t slow them down. That was not the way we played defense here for three years.”
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