Logically, one would think a native Kentuckian with the coaching record that Brown, 38, has compiled since going to Troy as head coach in 2015 would be an obvious candidate to replace the deposed Bobby Petrino.
Brown has deep ties to the commonwealth. A former high school standout at Boyle County, he was a Kentucky Wildcats wideout during the Hal Mumme era. When Mark Stoops was hired as UK coach before the 2013 season, Brown served as his offensive coordinator for two years (2013 and ‘14).
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After going 4-8 in his first season at Troy, Brown has led the Trojans to a 30-8 record in the three seasons since. Included have been two bowl victories and the 2017 Sun Belt Conference championship.
Yet, after ex-U of L quarterback and assistant Brohm broke Cardinals hearts by deciding to remain as Purdue’s head man, Yahoo’s Thamel reported Wednesday that Brown was “unlikely to be considered” at U of L.
According to Thamel, remarks Brown made before UK’s 2014 spring football game remain a sore point at U of L.
In explaining what he was telling potential Kentucky recruits, Brown referenced the crowd estimated above 50,000 that attended the first Stoops-era UK spring game.
“I’m talking about, ‘Hey, our fan base is one of the best, if not the best in college sports,’ because there’s no NBA team, there’s no Major League Baseball team, there’s no NFL team. So UK athletics is it,” Brown said then. “The other team (Louisville) doesn’t want to hear that, but it’s it. We’re the show in town, in the state.”
Is Louisville right to discard an otherwise appealing coaching candidate for, essentially, reasons of rivalry and hurt feelings?
In a rational world, the answer would be no.
College football history is filled with coaches who led rivals of their college alma maters to great heights.
Auburn grad Vince Dooley coached Georgia to 201 wins and 20 bowl games.
Georgia alum Pat Dye took Auburn to nine bowl games.
Oregon State graduate Rich Brooks elevated Oregon from college football’s basement to a Rose Bowl appearance.
For all the kvetching among some U of L backers about potentially hiring “a UK guy” as Cards head football coach, Louisville sports history is filled with graduates of the University of Kentucky who have made major contributions to Cardinals athletics.
Howard Schnellenberger, “the father” of the modern U of L football program, was a standout football end at UK from 1952-55.
Harry Jones, the man who led the search that brought athletics director Tom Jurich to Louisville, was a Kentucky football letterman in 1950-52.
During Petrino’s highly successful initial run as U of L football coach (2003-06), three of his key assistants had deep ties to the University of Kentucky. Greg Nord and Mike Cassity were ex-UK football players; Mike Summers was (and still is) the son-in-law of Joe B. Hall.
Paul Rogers, the longtime Louisville radio play-by-play announcer, is a Kentucky alumnus.
So is current U of L AD Tyra, who was a baseball pitcher for the Wildcats from 1985-88.
With Brohm out of Louisville’s coaching picture, Brown would “know the lay of the land” at U of L better than any other realistic candidate the school can currently hire.
Alas, an element of the Louisville fan base doesn’t want to hear that.
Fact is, U of L backers have endured as tumultuous a past few years as any school’s fans have ever experienced.
It has been filled with scandal and embarrassing headlines. The turmoil, coupled with the falls from grace of U of L sports icons Jurich, Petrino and men’s basketball coach Rick Pitino, have left psychic wounds.
In coaching searches, where one went to college should be far less important than the skill set and character traits one would bring to the job.
Yet the one thing Louisville needs above all in its major sports hires presently is the ability to unify its fractured fan base.
It seems that at least some percentage of Louisville fans would start out a Neal Brown coaching era at U of L dug in against supporting “the UK guy.”
When Brown gets a Power Five head coaching opportunity, and he will, he deserves better than that.
Mark Story: (859) 231-3230; Twitter: @markcstory