West Virginia coach Neal Brown will return in 2023 as the Mountaineers go through an athletic director change, the program announced in conjunction with the hiring of North Texas athletic director Wren Baker to the same position on Wednesday.
Brown put together a disappointing 5-7 campaign as the program will miss out on a bowl game appearance for the second time in four seasons. Prior to Brown, the Mountaineers had missed just one bowl game since 2002 -- and that 4-8 season came as West Virginia transitioned from the Big East to the Big 12. In four seasons, Brown has a 22-25 record in Morgantown with his only winning season coming during the pandemic-shortened campaign in 2020.
Brown was given a lifeline after West Virginia opted to move on from athletic director Shane Lyons after seven years as head of the athletic department. Lyons signed Brown to a two-year contract extension after an 11-11 start to his career, and language in the deal states that Brown is owed the remainder of his salary over the course of the contract if fired before Jan. 1, 2025, per 247Sports. If West Virginia fired him on Jan. 1, 2023, it would owe Brown about $16.7 million.
Baker is a rising star in athletic director circles and comes to West Virginia as athletic director after seven successful years at North Texas. He is a highly successful fundraiser who helped revamp North Texas' facilities and set new records for fundraising every year of his tenure. Baker previously worked in key roles at Missouri and Memphis.
"When we began this search, we were determined to find someone who could lead the modern realities of intercollegiate athletics and build on the legacy of his predecessors," said West Virginia president Gordon Gee in a statement. "We wanted someone who clearly understood the dynamics of a fast-changing athletics environment and had found success being at the forefront of this new world that includes managing NIL and the portal. We looked at a number of well-qualified candidates and, at the end of the day, Wren met every one of our needs."
While Baker did not hire Seth Littrell as football coach, he oversaw the Mean Green's trips to five different bowls and two Conference USA championship games. Baker also hired Grant McCasland as basketball coach, who led the Mean Green to their first March Madness victory in program history with a win over Purdue in 2021. Perhaps most importantly, Baker helped set North Texas up to join the American Athletic Conference for the 2023 season.
Evaluating Brown will be Baker's top priority in his first season in Morgantown. However, a close second will be preparing for life after Hall of Famer Bob Huggins retires as basketball coach. Fundraising both for West Virginia's athletic department and NIL collectives will also be exceedingly important as the Mountaineers try to compete in a new Big 12 Conference.