MORGANTOWN — There was something quite significant in the news that broke on Thursday that former West Virginia quarterback Austin Kendall, who engineered the Mountaineers’ second-half comeback to beat Army in the Liberty Bowl after riding the bench all season, was heading to Louisiana Tech to play his final season of college football.
It wasn’t just that he was transferring. That we knew for the past six months.
Instead, it symbolized the end of an era, an era that Dana Holgorsen had initiated at WVU, an era when the Mountaineers became a gathering point for quarterbacks who were dissatisfied with their position in life and would come to play in Morgantown for the last year or two of their careers.
It wasn’t that Clint Trickett or Skyler Howard were disappointing when they came to WVU in the middle of their collegiate careers.
Quite the opposite.
They both were good additions, but that’s like saying you have found a very good Band-Aid to cover up a cut on your arm when, in reality, you would much rather not have cut your arm at all.
Will Grier was the third straight transfer to start for WVU. Again, a strong addition to the WVU football team and culture, but more a hired gunslinger from the outside, sort of transplanted arm rather than part of the original equipment.
Kendall followed him as he came in from Oklahoma and then Neal Brown even had to bring in Jarret Doege.
It was almost like WVU was bringing in a series of guest quarterbacks in search of a replacement for Patrick White and Geno Smith much as Jeopardy was bringing in a series of guest hosts as it sought a replacement for Alex Trebek.
This is something you can do for an instant fix but this isn’t really the way you build championship traditions.
You might be able to get away with it at offensive tackle or linebacker, but the quarterback is normally the face on the cover of Sports Illustrated, the man on the Heisman Trophy ballot, the player who personifies what your football organization is and to have him be Paladin is not what you want.
You want greatness, you want quarterbacks who not only pass the football, but pass the test of being a part of your team, your community, in WVU’s case, your state. You want Patrick White or Jeff Hostetler or Marc Bulger, guys who you mold from the beginning into the player and man you want in this position.
If you look at Neal Brown’s approach, you see that he is trying very hard to create a situation much as you’ve seen in say Oklahoma or Clemson or Ohio State — players recruited at quarterback by the school, players who will learn from the bottom up, be raised in the system and integrated into the community.
This is the man who will be your leader and leaders usually rise out of the ranks, not come in for a one- or two-year hitch aimed at getting themselves to the NFL.
As Doege plays out the final year of his career, he now can look behind him and see young quarterbacks who were recruited by Neal Brown beginning to line up to compete for the job in the future.
It begins with Garrett Greene, who has been groomed to offer Brown the option of a more mobile quarterback, should he feel that is the way to go. Greene became something of a fan favorite as a backup — doesn’t that always happen? — but should he win the job next season it will be because he grew into.
The same can be said for this year’s top recruit at quarterback, Will “Goose” Crowder, who is a promising freshman prospect out of Alabama and who surely be competing with Greene a year from now ... if not in the middle of this season, depending upon how things go.
Will both stay all four or five years? In the atmosphere in college football today the answer is probably not, but they have a chance to be a part of what Brown is building here and offer different assets from which the coach can choose.
But with two QBs in tow, Brown did not stand pat. He went out and added four-star quarterback recruit Nicco Marchiol out of Arizona as commitment for 2022.
It sets up an orderly succession of potentially powerful quarterbacks, much the way Oklahoma followed Baker Mayfield with Kyler Murray, then grabbed off maybe the transfer of the century in Jalen Hurts from Alabama, and then had Spencer Rattler to follow him.
If you have to accept a quarterback transfer, Hurts certainly wasn’t a bad guy to fill that role.
The idea is to eventually become the place where quarterbacks want to go, just as Penn State once was Linebacker U and further back to the O.J. Simpson, Marcus Allen days when USC was where running backs went to play.
Rather than looking around trying to find an experienced quarterback from the outside every year or two, you want to create a situation like the old adage that says:
“If you give a man a fish, you feed him for a day. If you teach a man to fish, you feed him for lifetime.”
That’s how you want your QB position set up and Neal Brown seems to not only realize that, but to know how to implement it.
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