West Virginia head football coach Neal Brown made waves earlier this month when he made an appearance on the Pat McAfee Show, a daily program hosted by the former Mountaineer kicker of the same name.
While much of the conversation revolved around Brown’s embrace of the NCAA’s proposed rule changes on student-athlete name, image and likeness, Brown caught the attention of Mountaineer fans when he gave McAfee a simple invitation.
“You’re welcome anytime, anytime,” Brown said. “We’ll get you back and you can lead ‘Country Roads.'”
That might seem like a simple invitation for a head coach to extend towards a former player from his program — especially the team’s all-time leading scorer. McAfee, however, has been outspoken about his timidness to return to Morgantown for a game due to the reaction after his performance against Pitt in 2007.
“It’s hard to go back to a place where you got 27 death threats, and then every time you talk about them, you get somebody to tweet you, ‘If you made those two kicks, we’re national champs,'” McAfee said on a previous episode of his show.
This type of sentiment is not unique to the kicker. In 2017, McAfee’s quarterback Pat White hosted an episode of his podcast, stating that this was a common topic of discussion between himself and his former teammates.
“We were from the Big East, so it was a whole different kind of staff involved,” he said. “We were in the Big East for so long, then, when we went to the Big 12, a different staff came in, and we are viewed a little bit different, I think.”
Steve Slaton, who shared the backfield with White, corroborated this thought and added that he felt there was a “disconnect” between alumni and the coaching staff at the time.
That comment was made before Brown joined the Mountaineers, and the new head coach has made an effort to rekindle those relationships — as shown by his time on McAfee’s show.
“I just think it’s the right thing to do,” Brown said. “They built the tradition of the program, and whether you were a great player, role player, whatever you were, I think it’s important to welcome the guys back.”
In April, the football program took an active step in bringing the team together by hosting a Zoom call with a group former players numbering in the dozens, including McAfee and many of his teammates. Brown opened the call and greeted the Mountaineers, but quickly dipped out of the call so the attendees could have fun.
On top of that, Brown has made alumni an active part of his team’s preparation for next season by inviting them to participate in the team’s zoom calls. The alumni, he says, have a vested interest in the program’s success and want to be a part of it.
“That’s something we’re going to continue to grow,” Brown said. “We’re not perfect on that, we have not arrived…but it’s something that we’re trying to build, is those relationships.”