MORGANTOWN — The book closed on Neal Brown’s first season as head coach at West Virginia in the mist at Fort Worth, Texas, on Friday with its 5-7 season being a far larger accomplishment than anyone can imagine.
This was a team that had been sucked clean of talent by the previous administration, a team in search of itself. Three wins seemed to be most that could be expected, yet by the end of the season, there were five wins and more than that there was a culture established that do nothing but help them move forward.
“As a team, we’re so tight-knit,” senior linebacker Shea Campbell observed following Friday’s 20-17 victory over TCU. “It’s unfortunate this season went like this, but this is the closest team I’ve been a part of. We all try to do well for each other. We wanted to win.
This week, we don’t have school. It’s Thanksgiving and everyone wants to be home with their family. Well, we’re family and everyone wanted to be with each other.”
On most teams, the growth that develops through a season comes through practice but this was different.
It had to be different because WVU did not get just a new coach but it got a new approach.
The win at Kansas State, the win at TCU, they were far more a product of team building and character building than of skillful plays or clever coaching.
Those games were won at team outings at Suburban Lanes in Morgantown for bowling, won through visits to Children’s Hospital and to a coal mine. They came through team dinners and a big brother program and coaching that stressed how you conducted yourself on campus and in town as much as on the football field.
It was a victory over proper values over selfish goals, a triumph that goes back as far as the Three Musketeers themselves and their “all for one and one for all” approach.
It allowed the Mountaineers with developing a quarterback controversy, it allowed them to survive a rash of injuries, to not accept defeat but to learn from it.
It was a triumph of patience in an impatient business, from the players who had to wait to develop, but more from a coaching staff who was set on where they were going and how they were going to get there.
They were patient with Kennedy McKoy, the running back who could get nothing going and easily could have been shoved aside, knowing that he was not back next year. But they respected the time and the moments he had given to the program in the past and waiting for him to finally break loose, which he did Friday.
They had to wait on Jarret Doege, who wound up the quarterback at the end because they knew they couldn’t waste his redshirt year.
It was handled perfectly, allowing him to benefit from the allowable four games played but not pressured by defeat — some of them difficult to swallow — to get him in sooner.
“It was big for me [to be able to play four games,” Doege said. “It let me earn respect from my teammates, to show them I can come and play in the Big 12 and that I’m not just a kid from Bowling Green.
“I hope they believe in me and I believe in them. I think we have a bright future.”
He now looks like the bridge to the future, the quarterback who can have the right persona and solid enough skills to fit the program they are building.
Yes, he won their respect, even in a game like Friday’s when he had over three interceptions to find the game-winning heroics her provided.
“Our offensive linemen kept going to him, telling him to keep throwing the ball. You’re a dude,” said senior tackle Colton McKivitz. “You’re the guy in there. We’re going to pick up guys and pick up blitzers. Just the way he plays... he’s a focused guy, his mentality is great.”
“It’s the quarterback mentality,” Doege said. “You know if you throw a pick you have to erase that and you have to play the next play. I knew we were going to be in it until the end and we have to try to get that out of my head.
“With each deep pass I missed on I knew one was going to connect.”
The winner went to Isaiah Esdale, one of how many projects they brought along all year, players without experience who needed to be guided through the winding world of college football.
There are gaping holes that have to be filled by next season. Both offensive tackles are gone, there is no proven center, both cornerbacks are gone, yet there is a program in place now to create a steady flow of talent ... not simply keep grabbing stop gaps out of junior colleges.
The season may have ended but it was not an end at all, just a place to begin from.
Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel