By LARRY VAUGHT
Could former Kentucky walk-on receiver Neal Brown be the next head football coach at Louisville?
While Purdue coach and Louisville native Jeff Brohm is perceived to be the obvious No. 1 target for the Cardinals after the firing of Bobby Petrino on Sunday, one online gambling site — Bovada — has the odds of Brown being the next coach at 4-1 behind only Brohm at 10/11.
Brown, the offensive coordinator at Kentucky in Mark Stoops’ first two seasons, has been the head coach at Troy for four years. His team is 8-2 this year and he’s 33-15 overall despite a 4-8 mark his first year. Troy finished 10-3 in 2016 when it was ranked in the AP Top 25 for the first time in school history and 11-2 in 2017 and won bowl games each year.
Brown, a graduate of Boyle County High School where he played for Chuck Smith (a former UK player and linebackers coach at UK under Rich Brooks), led Troy to a win at LSU in 2017 that snapped a 46-game non-conference win streak by LSU. This year Troy went to Nebraska and won. Don’t forget that Troy almost won at Clemson in 2016.
I can still remember Brown’s last game as UK’s offensive coordinator. Ironically, it was against Louisville in then Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium and the Cats lost 44-40 to finish 5-7 and just miss bowl eligibility after a a 5-1 start. Three times in the final six games UK scored 31 or more points but lost all three.
Brown spent extra time in the end zone just looking out across the field before he left because he knew then it would be his last game as a Kentucky coach.
Brown has been offensive coordinator at Troy and Texas Tech (he helped the Red Raiders upset No. 3 Oklahoma 41-38 in 2011). He worked at UMass, Sacred Heart and Delaware before being hired by Tony Franklin at Troy to coach receivers.
Brown has the offensive resume that fans like. The only time his offense has not produced big numbers was at Kentucky and even then Kentucky scored 30 or more points seven times in his final season without nearly the offensive talent the Cats have now.
But would Louisville be the right fit for him? Or would he be the right fit for the Cardinals?
His Kentucky ties likely would not be looked upon favorably by a Louisville fan base intent on bringing back Brohm, who was successful as the head coach at Western Kentucky and has a win over Ohio State this year. Coaching at Louisville would get Brown and his family back closer to home in Danville, but it would also come with a lot more stress than what he has at Troy.
Brown can make about $1 million dollars if all goes well at Troy. That’s about the maximum salary for him there and he accepts that with no complaints. He lives two hours from the beach, has control of his program and facilities have just been upgraded.
However, his age (38) and productive offense make him an attractive coaching candidate for a lot of schools. Let’s say Brohm is the leader at Louisville and gets the job. Purdue then will need a coach who can run a creative offense like Brohm — and don’t forget talented receiver Rondale Moore is already there— and Brown certainly does that. Also remember Purdue was not afraid to hire Brohm when he was successful at Western, so why wouldn’t the Boilermakers be willing to bring in a coach from Troy.
This year Brown’s offense has continue to thrive despite having to change quarterbacks after Kaleb Barker went down with a knee injury. He also had to suspend a running back and receiver early in the year for the remainder of the season. Quarterback Sawyer Smith has thrown for 604 yards in the last two games and running back B.J. Smith has gone over 100 yards in four of the last five games.
Brown likes to stretch the field and throw the ball, but he also believes in a solid running game.
I’ve known Brown since he was in middle school. There’s not a better competitor than him and his integrity has never been questioned.
He’s going to get job offers. Maybe not Louisville, but others are going to be coming. He got some last year and might be doing his best coaching job this season considering the adjustments he’s had to make on offense.
I still don’t see Brown at Louisville next season. That’s the job for Brohm. But I do believe Brown is going to get one of those life-altering job offers where the money will be really good and he’ll have a chance to move up the coaching ladder again and do what he always does — WIN.