What will Neal Brown's second year look like?

During the 2019 football season at WVU, Jarrett Doege played four games in which connected on 79-of-120 passes for 818 yards and seven touchdowns with a long of 50 yards.

MORGANTOWN — On Wednesday afternoon, in the midst of a pandemic and what now has to be frantic preparation to bring his football team back into town to get back into the routine, West Virginia University football coach Neal Brown took time out for a virtual Q&A session with fans via 247Sports.

As has become the custom, most of the questions concerned Brown’s programs to build people, things such as his Fifth Quarter Program, community service, academics and all the things that makes him a new generation coach.

But the one question that looms over all of it as college football tries to rescue the coming season is what the disruption to his plans — two practices into his second spring — will do to the building of his program.

See, Brown is embarking on his second year as Mountaineers coach after a deceptively successful 5-7 first year … but that was just laying the foundation for what is to come. Often, with coaches who prove to be as successful as Shane Lyons believes Brown will be, there is a big jump from Year 1 to Year 2 in a program.

But that statement is built upon history, while there is no history to rely upon to see how this unprecedented disruption and distraction will effect the building process.

First, let us offer proof of how much coaches taking over programs can jump up from one year to the next, Brown once having already done so after winning three games his first season at Troy and winning 10 the next three years.

Consider these examples:

Don Nehlen, West Virginia

1980 (6-6) … 1981 (9-3)

Rich Rodriguez, West Virginia

2001 (3-8) … 2002 (9-4)

Bear Bryant, Texas A&M

1954 (1-9) … (1955 7-2-1)

Bear Bryant, Alabama

1958 (5-4-1) … 1959 (7-2-2)

Jim Tressel, Ohio State

  • 2001 (7-5)...2002 (14-0) and a Big Ten and National Championship

Nick Saban, LSU

2000 (8-4)...2001 (10-3) and an SEC Championship

Nick Saban, Alabama

2007 (7-6)...2008 (12-2)

Joe Paterno, Penn State

1966 (5-5)...1967 (8-2)

Bobby Bowden, Florida State

1976 (5-6)...1977 (10-2)

Bob Stoops, Oklahoma

  • 1999 (7-5)...2000 (13-0) and a Big 12 and National Championship

Urban Meyer, Utah

2003 (10-2)...2004 (12-0)

Urban Meyer, Florida

  • 2005 (10-3)...2006 (13-1) and a SEC Championship and National Championship

Jim Tressel, Ohio State

  • 2001 (7-5)...2002 (14-0) and a Big Ten and National Championship

Steve Spurrier, Duke

1987 (5-6)...1988 (7-3-1)

Tommy Bowden, Tulane

  • 1997 (7-4)...1998 (11-0)

Bobby Petrino, Louisville

2003 (9-4)...2004 (11-1)

Les Miles, Oklahoma State

2001 (4-7)...2002 (8-5)

Paul Johnson, Navy

2002 (2-10)...2003 (8-5)

Gary Patterson, TCU

2001 (6-6)...2002 (10-2)


The question is, what happens from Year 1 to Year 2?

The answer may be obvious.

The coach is no longer introducing himself and his program to his players. He has a full year of recruiting. He can correct mistakes from the previous year in the spring and give his players a chance to work with each other over the summer before coming to camp and putting things together.

Say what you will, but WVU has missed more than three months of this and it figures to hit them worse than at schools where the coaches and programs were entrenched such as Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, TCU, Texas and Iowa State in the Big 12.

Brown admits this a journey into the unknown.

“It’s going to impact every team. There’s just a lot of unknowns, there really is,” Brown said. “We’ve stayed consistent with our messaging to our players. We’ve talked about having a routine schedule, about culture accountability and we’ve really hammered those.

“I think we’ve had a really good plan about how we taught and what our expectations are whenever that return to play is. It’s our intent to create an edge.

“How it’s going to impact our program I don’t know. I really don’t. But I think it’s going to have an impact on everyone’s team.”

True, there were four new coaches in the Big 12 last year, and that should lessen the extent of the damage, but in WVU’s case there is one reason why the lost time may hurt more than at some other schools.

There’s also a quarterback competition at WVU. True, the new redshirt rule last season allowed Bowling Green transfer Jarrett Doege to get four games under his belt after replacing Austin Kendall, which will help but let’s take a look back to what happened when Will Grier came to WVU from Florida and had a full off-season to work with David Sills V.

They became absolute work dogs together, inseparable and indefatigable.

“David was begging me to throw in the offseason, doing anything he can to get better,” Grier said at the time. “He got so much better so quickly through spring ball and over the summer and through camp.”

And it wasn’t just working on timing and routes. It was watching film, meeting with quarterback coach Jake Spavital.

“They’re both in my office,” Spavital said. “They sit in my office and study football all day long. They’re getting extra workouts, extra treatment, extra therapy, everything. It’s pretty special because it means so much to them.”

It is this kind of dedication that will be needed to catch up on what has been missed, not only between quarterback and receivers but all the working parts of the offense and defense.

But to add to the problem, there was no bowl preparation last year, either … so again that is just that much more preparation that needs to be worked on.

Now if they get together on June 15 and begin working and are able to go into summer camp and into the fall without disruption, it may be enough time to put things together without much disruption, although it is a journey into the unknown.

And it could get complicated if that quarterback competition stretches out into camp where you really can’t get extra work for your starter if you don’t know who your starter is.

Now Brown was innovative last year when he split the field in half and worked two quarterbacks at a time, getting them more reps than they would have had in a more traditional setting, one of the most crucial matters will be to have one quarterback rise up and win the job quickly.

Brown has approached the situation analytically, looking for that edge he talked about and his well thought out approach may give them just that.

Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel

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