Allegany Communications Sports

Alfred, Lord Tennyson — no relation to Alfred, the Butler — once said, “In the spring a young man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of baseball.”

Well, actually, he didn’t say that; I say that, but spring is definitely in the air around here, and you can tell just by the way we have begun to treat each other in every every-day encounter.

To a person, it seems as though we’ve gotten our heads out of our arses, because five days into March, the air has become fresher, and though there hasn’t been much bright, beautiful sun yet, we feel that extra bounce in our steps and the extra smile on our faces that we didn’t feel this time last month.

We’re nearing the end of the first week of March and all things seem possible; in fact, the possibilities are endless. Just ask West Virginia University head football coach Neal Brown, who is not entertaining thoughts of baseball.

On Tuesday it was announced that Brown had signed a contract extension for a fourth year that will take him to 2027 and that he is actually taking a $400,000 salary cut over the next three years because he wants to reinvest in the program, assistant coaches’ salaries and in whatever way that will enhance the overall well-being of Mountaineers football.

That’s what the late Jim Fassel would call shoving your chips to the middle of the table and betting on yourself. That’s what I call some spring fever right there, Jack.

The contract renewal will decrease Brown’s annual salary $400,000 over the next three years, which will be put other places and to other people, namely toward the salaries of assistant coaches and staff.

“My first priority was retaining and rewarding our assistant coaches and support staff who have played such a critical role in our success,” Brown said. “I appreciate (athletic director Wren Baker)’s support on that front as well as his continued commitment to me and what we are building. We share a common vision for this program and that alignment is critical to our continued success. There are great things ahead, and I can’t wait to see our incredible fans back in Milan Puskar Stadium on August 31.”

Under the new deal, Brown is paid 75% of his remaining salary if he’s fired at any point during the length of the contract as opposed to the previous buyout that would have required West Virginia to pay him 100% of his remaining salary had he been fired on or before December 31, 2024, and 85% if he were fired in 2025.

If Brown leaves for another job at any point under the revamped contract, he is to pay 10% of his remaining total salary. Previously, he would have been required to pay 25% of his remaining salary had he left before December 31, 2024, and 12.5% of the remaining salary had he left in 2025.

The 43-year-old Brown, who looks 23, is 31-29 as the West Virginia head coach, including 20-24 in Big 12 Conference play. Last season the Mountaineers finished with nine wins, a bowl victory and a 6-3 mark in the conference, which isn’t too bad when you consider they were picked by everybody to finish last.

It’s a good thing all the way around, as assistant coaches are going to get a little more, which is big since schools like WVU and Maryland have had difficulty retaining assistant coaches because of a lack of resources.

Where it’s really good for WVU is in the confidence Brown is showing not only in himself, but in his assistants and in his players, and that he believes this program finally has the feet it needs under his leadership to continue to build on last year’s successful season.

Should that occur and the Mountaineers win at least nine games again, Brown, who is coming off as looking pretty good for voluntarily taking a pay cut, will likely be in line to get that money back, and more, with a larger contract extension, with the much more realistic buyout terms for both parties that are in this restructured deal, as opposed to the buyout terms that were in the previous deal negotiated by former athletic director Shane Lyons.

The voluntary salary cut is also something Brown can point out to transfer portal players who might be considering coming to West Virginia — “I believe in what we’re doing here so much that I took almost a half-million dollar cut in pay.”

That tells me that either Neal Brown has actually been entertaining thoughts of baseball, which football coaches just never do, or that he really does believe the possibilities for West Virginia University football are, indeed, endless.

The WVU head coach has just shoved his chips to the middle of the table and bet on himself and his program.

I’m telling you, there’s something in the air.

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]. Follow him on Twitter @MikeBurkeMDT