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How in the hell is Neal Brown still at Troy?

Are Power 5 ADs now more worried about the air raid stigma than NFL GMs are?

Dollar General Bowl - Buffalo v Troy Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

Mack Brown and Les Miles hold power conference head coaching jobs again (at UNC and Kansas, respectively), and Neal Brown is still at Troy.

FBS programs opened their eyes to hiring successful FCS coaches — NDSU’s Chris Klieman to Kansas State, JMU’s Mike Houston to ECU, Chattanooga’s Tom Arth to Akron, Austin Peay’s Will Healy to Charlotte — and Scot Loeffler just got himself a real, honest-to-god FBS head coaching job. But Neal Brown can’t get himself a promotion.

I have no idea how this happened. It’s like he’s been forgotten.

He has almost no hole on his résumé.

  • Successful power conference coordinator? Check! He had three top-40 offenses at Texas Tech despite Tommy Tuberville being his boss, and as Kentucky’s play-caller, he took a unit that had averaged a No. 102 Off. S&P+ ranking in the two years before his arrival and averaged a No. 75 ranking over two years.
  • Successful FBS head coach? Emphatic check! Brown has gone 31-8 since the start of 2016. He lost a number of key contributors from his 11-win, LSU-beating 2017 squad, then lost his Nebraska-beating quarterback midway through 2018. The Trojans fell all the way to ... 10 wins. Without star receiver Damion Willis at the end of the regular season, they still came within a single bad quarter of winning at Appalachian State, taking the Sun Belt East, and probably winning the conference.

On Saturday evening in Mobile, Troy took advantage of Buffalo’s sloppiness (the Bulls fumbled six times, losing three) and overcame a couple of red zone miscues — a fourth-and-1 stuff in the first quarter, a fumble that turned into a 94-yard touchdown return in the third — to pull away for a comfortable 42-32 win.

They outplayed an athletic, well-coached team, but they also did what they’ve constantly done under Brown: seize every opportunity.

They pulled a surprise onside kick after taking the lead in the third quarter, which, combined with UB’s fumble return, allowed them to keep Buffalo’s offense off the field for the entire period. Then, after their last fumble recovery, and with the dagger in their hands, they whipped out what was basically a damn Wing T formation, confusing the defense and opening up Sidney Davis to roll 20 yards for the game-clinching points.

SERIOUSLY. WING T. (Davis had just caught a 45-yard bomb earlier in the quarter as well.)

Brown’s teams are bold, opportunistic, and creative. And in 2018, he pulled off his most impressive job yet.

And yet, in one of the silliest coaching cycles college football has seen, he barely sniffed an interview.

Over the last few weeks on Podcast Ain’t Played Nobody, my co-host Steven Godfrey has been saying that, in talking to coaches and agents, he’s getting the impression that there’s a bit of a stigma forming against quote-unquote air raid coaches at the college level. Since Brown played for Hal Mumme and Mike Leach at Kentucky, and since he was tasked with maintaining Texas Tech’s pass-happy ways after Leach left Lubbock at the turn of the decade, maybe some of that stigma has held Brown back.

If that’s true, then athletic directors are even lazier and more impressionable than you might have thought. When even the NFL is realizing that offensive innovation might be paramount to success, college ADs are ... going regressive? Points are bad now?

Second of all, this will be the third straight year that Troy finishes in the Def. S&P+ top 50. The Trojans were 45th in 2016 and 17th in 2017, and they were 35th heading into the Dollar General Bowl. They probably aren’t going to sink after holding Buffalo below its season averages in both points and yards per play.

Brown’s defense has graded out better than his offense every year at Troy. I would hope that some stupid stigma associated with who he played college football for 20 years ago wouldn’t actually hold weight in job considerations. But it might be.

As baffled as I am, however, that’s enough of the negativity. On the positive side ... Troy gets an awesome coach back for a fifth year. That’s pretty damn cool.

Better yet, after an offseason of heavy personnel turnover, the 2018-to-2019 transition could be a pretty exciting one. They have to replace a trio of solid receivers that includes Willis (13 catches for 101 yards and two scores on Saturday), but next year’s top returning WR, Tray Eafford, did catch a 60-yard touchdown early in the game, which served as a reminder that upside will remain in the unit. Plus, Barker will be back in 2019.

Troy returns most of a run defense that ranked 15th in Rushing S&P+ heading into the postseason. They lose beefy nose guard Trevon Sanders and bandit linebacker Hunter Reese, but they were the only seniors on the two-deep. Linebackers Tron Folsom and Carlton Martial are dynamic, and despite a lithe frame, 265-pound tackle Antione Barker finished the year with more run stuffs than Sanders.

There’s a lot to like about Troy’s Sun Belt chances in 2019, especially with App State’s Scott Satterfield gone to Louisville. And yes, the Trojans will get another shot at a power conference win when they visit Missouri on October 5.

Just keep beating them until they let you join them, I guess.

NCAA Football: Dollar General Bowl-Buffalo vs Troy
B.J. Smith
John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports