MORGANTOWN — Neal Brown’s heart was in a dark place, but his mind was in a far happier place as he strode to the podium for what now will be a weekly Tuesday press conference.
While the media and people across the state waited to learn the outcome of his quarterback situation, which had dominated the news since he arrived in Morgantown in January to replace Dana Holgorsen, he opened off topic and into that dark area where no one really wants to go.
Brown offered condolences to a former competitor and friend, Arkansas State coach Blake Anderson, who early Tuesday morning had lost his wife, Wendy, to a long battle with breast cancer.
“Sad day, thinking about Blake, his three kids ... she fought hard and beat breast cancer once, but it wouldn’t be,” he said.
By making such a statement at as important a press conference as the one that wraps up his first camp as West Virginia’s football coach, Brown gave us glimpse into his soul. As he promised when he came on the scene, this was a man with far more depth than the normal football coach.
But, in the end, he is a football coach, and with that, comes the process of making decisions and dealing with young men whose futures are being shaped by him.
Throughout the spring there was a quarterback competition going on that would swing and sway almost daily. It was between Oklahoma transfer Austin Kendall; past Miami transfer and last year’s backup, Jack Allison; redshirt freshman Trey Lowe III; and a late addition after spring in Bowling Green transfer Jarret Doege, who was awaiting a decision from the NCAA to waive the one-year transfer rule that would require him to sit out. It was not an experienced group. Doege had the most playing time under his belt, having started 17 games in two seasons, including all 12 games of the 2018 season. He completed 62.7 percent of his passes for 4,041 yards along with 31 touchdowns.
There had been few hints from Brown over the course of camp as to whom the successor to Will Grier would be, but now he was ready to name the name.
He didn’t ease into the announcement.
“Austin Kendall won our quarterback job,” he said. “We tracked everything from spring practice through fall camp ... decision making, completion percentage, number of turnovers, scoring drives.”
The vision was clear, Brown said, after Friday night’s scrimmage that Kendall was his man ... but this is where it gets tricky. Handling those who didn’t win the job but may still be needed is a challenge. Brown began facing it right away.
“Jack Allison did a good job. I believe in him,” Brown said. “Trey Lowe prepared well and continues to improve. He could potentially see game action.”
And Doege, whom many believed might have a chance to win the starting job because of his experience if he was cleared to play, was put into football limbo.
“That doesn’t really change our plan for him, which, as of today, is for him to redshirt. He’s coming off offseason surgery. He’s a little bit behind. I think that’s the right decision for him. Obviously that’s as we start the season,” Brown said.
Brown was adamant none of the other three played themselves out of the job.
“Austin won the job. I’m not sure the other guys lost it,” Brown said. “He won the job by outperforming them. That doesn’t change the way I feel about the other guys. I think Jack Allison is as good a teammate as you can ask over the last nine months. I believe in him. He has skills in our league. I believe he can be productive.”
But, in the end, taking the snaps will be Kendall.
“He’s mature,” Brown said of Kendall. “You gotta remember, he went through this song and dance before. They had a competition at Oklahoma last year — I never asked him about it —but [Oklahoma coach] Lincoln Riley didn’t name a starter until about this time last year. So he went through that.”
Now the competition with eventual Heisman winner and No. 1 pick Kyler Murray may have been a bit of a charade to put an edge on Murray, but all along an athlete understands that if he does his best and believes in himself, anything is possible.
Then, too, this year’s competition was muddled even further by Doege’s arrival. But Brown pointed out that Kendall had been through that, too, at Oklahoma.
“He went through another transfer situation with Jalen Hurts transferring to Oklahoma from Alabama, so he dealt with that,” Brown noted. “He’s an older kid, mature, has graduated college, gone about his business.
“And the thing I think he did as well as could be imagined was earning the respect of his team. He came in, didn’t say a lot, but his work ethic and level of preparation showed. He did a good job of interacting with all aspects of the football team.”
Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel.