MIKE BURKE

Allegany Communications Sports

Let’s talk some West Virginia University football today and the best of times for beleaguered head coach Neal Brown, and now his most ominous times.

The Mountaineers delivered the biggest win in Brown’s four years at WVU, 23-20, over Oklahoma on Saturday, yet one day later the feel-good would vanish as it was announced on Monday morning that Athletic Director Shane Lyons had resigned under pressure following a tense meeting on Sunday with WVU President E. Gordon Gee – which, of course, will have a direct effect on Brown’s fate as the football coach.

Lyons, a native of Parkersburg and a WVU graduate, was hired as athletic director in 2015, and in 2019 he hired Brown away from Troy State to succeed Dana Holgorsen as head football coach. Brown had coached Troy to three 10-win seasons and his hiring met with the approval of Gee, who has always been very involved with his schools’ athletic departments.

Problem is, Brown’s record is just 21-24 over four seasons, one year after the university extended his contract at Lyons’ recommendation, which guarantees full payment of the remaining amount on the six-year deal even if Brown is fired. That means WVU is on the hook for at least $16 million if Brown is let go at or before the end of the season.

Both Gee and interim athletic director Rob Alsop have said that while nobody is happy with the wins-losses, it will be up to the newly-hired athletic director to evaluate Brown and all of the WVU coaches and make his or her decision on their fate, meaning Brown is safe to finish the season as it will take at last two months for WVU to have a new AD in place.

West Virginia is one of the many schools around the country not of the so-called blue-blood or college royalty DNA that finds itself clearly stuck in the middle of a rapidly-changing athletics landscape.

Sadly, for Lyons and perhaps to Brown and others, but to WVU’s credit, the university is now taking a proactive approach to name, image and likeness (NIL) and the transfer portal, and school officials, not to mention the Mountaineer Athletic Club, the athletic department’s chief fundraiser, were apparently concerned that Lyons was not the person best equipped to manage it; so look for WVU to target a younger athletic director, who has a stronger background in business and in marketing.

Given Gee’s history, it would be safe to guess he had a list of potential candidates in mind before he even met with Lyons on Sunday.

Speaking of lists, The Athletic, in putting the cart before the horse, already put out its list of potential candidates to replace Brown as the head coach: Jason Candle of Toledo, Sean Lewis of Kent State, Jeff Monken of Army, Scott Satterfield of Louisville and – wait for it – Rich Rodriguez of Jacksonville State.

Yes, there are folks out there who still want to feel the Rich Rod magic, and for a time that magic was real in Morgantown. But at this point, all of these years later, would it be possible for Rich Rod to go home again and for WVU to embrace him?

The best way of expressing the potential of that circumstance was stated by a WVU fan on Twitter, who tweeted, “If WVU hires Rich Rodriguez as its next head coach, that would be like taking your current life savings and investing/opening a Blockbuster Video store.

“Like … he got lucky 20 years ago, but everything about him is outdated and ruined, both on and off the field.”

I don’t know about the luck part, for once the Rodriguez system began to click, West Virginia was as good as anybody in the country. That said, I do agree with the rest of this gentleman’s opinion.

In the meantime, let’s not lose sight of the 4-6 Mountaineers being two wins from bowl eligibility. If they win out – at home vs. Kansas State and then at Oklahoma State — they will again go bowling, so there is still much for them to work toward.

Last week’s win over Oklahoma was a rock fight (a boring one at that) until sophomore quarterback Garrett Greene entered the game for good and absolutely electrified the Mountaineers team and the Mountaineers fans, who showed the loyalty and support to be there during an absolutely horrible day of weather.

Greene brought WVU back from two deficits and some tough luck through them, completing 12 of 22 passes for 138 yards and a touchdown, and rushing for 119 yards and two touchdowns.

The Sooners had no answer for Greene, even when it seemed they had him locked up in contain, and he and his enthusiasm were the difference in the game.

Brown will not reveal who will start this week at home vs. Kansas State, JT Daniels or Greene, saying they both are getting reps in practice and that Greene more than earned more playing time with his performance against the Sooners.

I would say so, and if it were up to me, particularly seeing how this is the final WVU home game of the year, Greene would get that playing time, beginning with the Mountaineers’ first offensive possession.

Why not keep the momentum going? Why not keep the enthusiasm stirring with the home crowd that embraced the sophomore QB last week in the most stirring moment of the Mountaineers’ season?

It’s up to Neal Brown, of course; but then it will be up to the next athletic director, who, wherever he or she might be, will certainly be watching.

Mike Burke writes about sports and other stuff for Allegany Communications. He began covering sports for the Prince George’s Sentinel in 1981 and joined the Cumberland Times-News sports staff in 1984, serving as sports editor for over 30 years. Contact him at [email protected] and [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @MikeBurkeMDT