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West Virginia AD Wren Baker retains football coach Neal Brown after 8-4 regular season

By AP | Dec 2, 2023

FILE - West Virginia head coach Neal Brown waits to greet his players after they scored against Baylor in the first half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Nov. 25, 2023, in Waco, Texas. West Virginia athletic director Wren Baker announced Friday, Dec. 1, 2023, that Brown will return next season. (Jerry Larson/Waco Tribune-Herald, via AP, File)

Coach Neal Brown will get another chance at West Virginia after finishing with his best regular-season record despite being mired in the program’s worst stretch in four decades.

West Virginia athletic director Wren Baker said Friday that Brown will return in 2024, putting to rest any speculation on the fate of the fifth-year coach, whose job security has been questioned by fans at various points over the past two seasons.

West Virginia is 8-4 this season and tied for fourth in the 14-team Big 12 after being picked to finish last. The Mountaineers qualified for their third bowl under Brown.

“I was very pleased with the way that the team performed and the way our coaches and staff performed,” Baker said on West Virginia network MetroNews. “I thought they did a really good job.

“I’ve never said anything to speculate differently. I know other people speculate,” Baker said. “But coach Brown is going to be our football coach and we’re excited about what the future holds and excited about building on what was a really good year.”

In response to an email from The Associated Press, West Virginia athletics spokesman Michael Fragale said no statement would be released by Baker on Brown’s future.

Despite the current success, Brown has a 30-29 record. It’s the worst five-year stretch at the school since 1976-80. His teams have never played for a Big 12 championship or have been ranked in the AP Top 25 poll. Brown has been especially vulnerable on the road, where his teams have gone 10-18 and lost 10 times by at least 17 points.

Brown said earlier this week on MetroNews that he expected to be back. “My family and I have enjoyed our time in West Virginia and we want to see this through,” he said.

It’s the second straight year of reprieves for Brown, who has three years remaining on his contract with a $12.7 million buyout if he’s fired. After West Virginia finished the 2022 season with a 5-7 record, the school announced on the day Baker was hired from North Texas that Brown would be retained.

The Mountaineers opened the 2023 season with a lopsided loss at Penn State, then went on their first four-game winning streak under Brown before a tough stretch due mostly to a leaky defense.

West Virginia lost at Houston on a last-second Hail Mary touchdown pass and was outscored 28-10 in the fourth quarter of a blowout loss the following week to Oklahoma State. The Mountaineers later lost 59-20 at Oklahoma, the most points given up under Brown.

West Virginia won its final two games but needed a last-minute touchdown in the regular-season finale to beat 3-9 Baylor after giving up two kick returns for touchdowns.

West Virginia will return much of its offensive production next season if it can keep its current roster. Dual-threat quarterback Garrett Greene, a junior, has three 100-yard rushing games and 13 touchdowns on the ground this year and ranks third nationally with 16.1 yards per pass completion. Freshman running back Jahiem White has rushed for more than 130 yards in three of his last four games. The Mountaineers are third nationally in rushing yards per game with 234.

Brown, 43, is in his first major-college head coaching job after leading Troy to a 35-16 record over four seasons, including the 2017 Sun Belt championship.


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AP college football: https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-college-football-poll and https://apnews.com/hub/college-football