UK Football

Offensive coordinator Neal Brown explains why he's leaving Kentucky

Kentucky Wildcats quarterback Patrick Towles (14) is met by offensive coordinator Neal Brown after scoring as the host University of Kentucky lost 31-45 to Mississippi State University football team at Commonwealth Stadium on Saturday October 25, 2014 in Lexington, Ky.  Photo by Mark Mahan
Kentucky Wildcats quarterback Patrick Towles (14) is met by offensive coordinator Neal Brown after scoring as the host University of Kentucky lost 31-45 to Mississippi State University football team at Commonwealth Stadium on Saturday October 25, 2014 in Lexington, Ky. Photo by Mark Mahan Herald-Leader

Neal Brown's voice cracked a little bit as he talked about leaving Kentucky again.

"I love Kentucky," he said quietly. "I love the University of Kentucky."

But the offensive coordinator of UK's football team has dreamed of being a head coach for the better part of his adult life, and an offer from Troy was too good to pass up.

There are only about 120 Division I head coaching jobs in the country, and when the call came from a place where Brown worked and grew as a coach for four seasons, he couldn't say no, even though it means saying goodbye to a program he loves.

"It's so bittersweet because of this place," Brown told the Herald-Leader on Sunday before he boarded a plane for Alabama. "There's unfinished business here.

"But I'm excited about the opportunity. My professional goal is to be a head coach in Division I and I'm very excited, excited it's going to happen at Troy."

He thinks he can win again at Troy, where he will replace head coach Larry Blakeney, who is retiring after 24 seasons. The Trojans finished 3-9 this season. While a coach and coordinator there, Brown was a part of four straight Sun Belt Conference championships and three bowl invitations.

"They've hit a skid the last few years, but they play in a conference where they should and can be very competitive," said Brown, 34.

It's been a whirlwind few days for the former Kentucky and Boyle County player.

On Saturday, Brown was coaching the Cats in their final game of a 5-7 season, a 44-40 losing effort at Louisville. Late in the game, news started to leak that he had been hired as the Trojans' next head coach.

By Saturday night, everything was finalized, and he made plans to board a plane Sunday afternoon with his wife, Brooke, and their two daughters, Adalyn and Anslee.

When Brown left Texas Tech to become offensive coordinator at Kentucky under Mark Stoops, he thought he was ready to be a head coach then.

"I had some opportunities that just didn't work out," he said.

He's glad they didn't.

If they had, he wouldn't have had a chance to work for and with Stoops at Kentucky.

"I've been really grateful the past two years getting to sit and watch Mark, a first-time head coach," Brown said. "Watch him grow, watch how he's handled the media, watch how he's handled the fundraising, how he's gone about recruiting, how he's delegated. ... I'm much better prepared now than I was two years ago to be a head coach."

Brown called Stoops "a good friend who has been great through this whole Troy process."

In a statement from UK on Sunday afternoon, Stoops said he was excited for Brown.

"I am very happy for Neal to earn a head coaching job and believe Troy has made an outstanding hire," Stoops said. "Congratulations to Neal and his family, and I appreciate his hard work at Kentucky."

'A really good foundation'

In Brown's two-year tenure as offensive coordinator, the Cats have gone 7-17, but the offensive coordinator thinks he is leaving the program on a solid footing.

"There's a really good foundation," Brown said. "We've taken our lumps and played a lot of young kids the last two years, and I really feel like that will pay off next year and the year after."

A majority of Brown's staff at Kentucky coached under him at previous stops, including wide receivers coach Tommy Mainord and running backs coach Chad Scott, who both came with Brown from Texas Tech. Offensive line coach John Schlarman was with him at Troy.

It seems unlikely that any of those coaches will follow him to Troy, which probably would mean a decrease in pay.

Brown has discussed his successor a little bit with Stoops and he expects the UK head coach will take his time to get the best fit, likely an outside hire.

"The thing about Mark is he has a lot of contacts, he knows a lot of people in the business," Brown said. "It's an attractive job. It's an SEC coordinator job; there are only 14 of them. We've had a lot of success recruiting and a lot of young talent.

"We've taken our lumps the last few years, but there's a lot of young talent here that can be successful, with a lot of football already under their belts. The new facilities are going to be attractive as well. This is a job that will get a lot of good offensive coaches interested."

No conflict with Stoops

A fixture on social media, once joking with reporters that he reads their tweets to fall asleep at night, Brown has seen various rumors and reports that there was friction between Stoops, a defensive guy by trade, and the offensive coordinator.

Brown said that couldn't be further from the truth.

"I don't know how that started, but Mark has been nothing but great to me, and he has let us do our job," Brown said. "He understands. He was very understanding of what our limitations were."

Those limitations included playing a lot of young players in key positions.

"We've had to play true freshmen or true sophomores or redshirt freshmen in really vital roles, and it's hard, and the season wears on them for sure," he said.

Brown heard and read the fan groans about his play calling, about how he was running a phony Air Raid, about how this offense was nothing like what he was known for at Texas Tech, which had one of the highest octane offenses in the country.

It was a different set of circumstances with a different set of players, Brown said on Sunday.

"We did what we needed to do to be competitive," he said of his time at Kentucky. "I think eventually a year or two down the road, we could've been a throw-first team, but we didn't have the pieces of the puzzle that we needed to do that week in and week out."

Brown firmly believes that Stoops will continue to improve the program and turn it back into a yearly bowl contender, maybe even more. He's still a little bit sad that he'll have to watch that growth from somewhere else.

"Mark's been great," Brown said. "I really believe in the process that he's installed here. He's done a great job evaluating talent; he's done a great job getting buy-in from the kids; he's done a great job getting the facilities that Kentucky needs to be successful."

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