MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — The “fate” of WVU’s head football coach will not be determined until a new athletic director is hired, according to multiple top officials at the university.
When WVU announced it had cut ties with director of athletics Shane Lyons Monday morning, university president E. Gordon Gee noted that he had not “given up” on Neal Brown as the leader of the Mountaineer football program. That program is one loss away from turning in its third losing season under Brown in four years.
“We are supporting Coach Neal Brown and our team as we complete our season over the next few weeks,” Gee said Monday in a statement. “We are aware there are some deficiencies, but we have not given up on the coach and the team, and they have not given up on each other. The evaluation of the football program will be the first task of our new athletic director and no changes will be made until that review has been completed.”
Interim director of athletics Rob Alsop, the university’s vice president for strategic initiatives, echoed Gee’s sentiment Monday afternoon: if there is to be a change at the helm of the football program, it will not occur before a new athletic director is hired.
“I know there will be some speculation that this is the first shoe of two shoes to drop, and I just want to disavow that,” Alsop said. “This is an independent decision.”
That message has been relayed directly to the head coach.
“I did talk to Neal late last night, and reiterated that same message,” Alsop said. “I know that’s on everybody’s minds, but they are not tied together from a fate perspective moving forward.”
Brown is in his fourth season as the head coach of WVU football. He possesses a 21-24 overall record, with his lone winning season coming in 2020, when the Mountaineers went 6-4 and won the Liberty Bowl during a campaign shortened by the COVID-19 pandemic.
After a disappointing 6-7 finish in 2021, the Mountaineers have struggled again this fall. They entered last Saturday’s game in last place in the Big 12.
But, West Virginia improved to 4-6 overall after defeating Oklahoma for the first time as a member of the conference. If the Mountaineers were to upset Kansas State and Oklahoma State in their final two games, they could still salvage a bowl berth.
“Those student-athletes, those kids have not given up on each other, or on this season, and they have not given up on their coaches, and neither have we,” Alsop said. “We have not given up on our head coach, our assistant coaches or those players. We’ve got two games to go, and I intend during this interim period to support them in any way that I can.”
But there appear to be no guarantees for Brown and his staff after this season.
“As you might imagine, when a new athletic director comes in, that individual will do an evaluation of the general direction of the department,” Alsop said. “The only thing I’ll say is — we are all not satisfied with the wins and losses, but President Gee and our new athletic director will take an appropriate, long-term look at the direction of all of the department of athletics and make a thoughtful decision moving forward.”
After the 2020 season, Brown signed a contract extension that binds him to WVU until 2026. His buyout is in the vicinity of $17 million.
A national search for WVU’s next athletic director has begun. Gee hopes the search will move “swiftly,” and hopes to name a new athletic director in the next four weeks.