By LARRY VAUGHT
Neal Brown has worked his magic with Troy University during his three-year stint as head coach, going 21-5 the last two seasons and wining a bowl game each season — not to mention the victory at LSU last season.
Brown, a former University of Kentucky receiver, says another former Kentucky player — linebacker Jon Sumrall — deserves a lot of credit for what Troy has done, too.
Sumrall is the assistant head coach, special teams coordinator and linebacker coach at Troy. He was a three-year letterman at Kentucky and led the team in tackles with 74 in 2004 as a senior. He was a two-year graduate assistant coach at Kentucky under coach Rich Brooks before coaching at San Diego and then Tulane before coming to Troy when Brown did.
“He is from Alabama (Huntsville) and is a really, really good guy,” Brown said. “I think he is one of the top assistant coaches in the country. He’s really valuable and does as good a job as anybody in recruiting.”
Brown doesn’t recruit the same players as Alabama or Auburn. However, Brown and his staff have recruited exceptionally well at the skilled position while basically staying in an area within a four-hour drive of Troy — Alabama, Georgia and Florida — along with junior college players.
Sumrall’s contacts have been a huge help for Brown, a former offensive coordinator at UK who has had his name mentioned this week as a possible candidate for the vacant job at Arizona.
“We are not competing with those guys (Alabama and Auburn) for recruits. We do not exactly recruit the same players,” the Troy coach said. “We try to find the best players we can sign and we take pride in developing them at a higher level than anybody. We recruit undersized guys that need weight and strength and are raw in their athletic skills. We bring them in and develop them and get them to the level where we can compete.
“Those guys (Alabama/Auburn) are getting finished products. We can’t compete with them in recruiting. We try to find guys that work for us, and Jon is great at that. Just like we try to be creative and schedule our games around their games all we can. A lot of Troy fans root for Alabama or Auburn.”
Brown just added another former Wildcat — Mark Perry — to his staff as director of football operations. The two played together at UK. Perry was a graduate assistant at UK for two seasons before going to Baylor in 2003 with coach Guy Morriss. He became the assistant director of football operations at Baylor in 2004.
Perry returned to the Bluegrass in 2004 to start a successful high school coaching carer at Washington County (2004-10), Central Hardin (2011-13) and Lexington Catholic (2014-17).
“He has been a really good personal friend and we have spent a lot of time together professionally as well,” Brown said. “Mark will be in charge of running our day to day aspects of the football program. I just glad it worked out and that he was available and I’m really happy to have him with us.”
But how long will Brown be at Troy? His name was mentioned in connection with several job openings this year based on what he’s done the last two years before the Arizona rumor caught fire this week. Troy will open a $25 million football facility in May. It was 5-1 against teams that went to bowls — including the historic win at LSU — this season and the one loss was at Boise State in week one when Troy was driving for the potential winning score when it fumbled with five minutes to go.
Brown says he’s happy at Troy and so is his family.
“You can win and have success here and can sustain it,” Brown said last week before he apparently interviewed with Arizona officials. “Will I be the head coach at Troy forever, I don’t know. They may get tired of me. There might be other opportunities for me. So many jobs are about prior relationships. My belief is that if you do the best you can at the spot where you are, then what happens will happen.”
Troy will open the 2018 season by hosting Boise in its renovated stadium and could be ranked in the preseason top 25 after what it has done the last two years.
With the emphasis on strength of schedule, Brown says top teams are reaching out to Troy for games. The Trojans will play at Nebraska in 2018. They played at Clemson in 2016 — and almost beat the eventual national champion.
“Those games are a positive for our program. If you win them, then they are really huge,” Brown said. “The win over LSU did more for our university than anything in the last 10 to 15 years. But our goal is to win the conference championship and you have to be careful to not wear your team out physically with the way you schedule.”
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