Last week, I spoke to WVU football assistant coach Travis Trickett.
Toward the end of the interview, I tossed a bit of a softball question, yet it was one I truly wanted to ask. It centered on Mountaineer head football coach Neal Brown.
Brown is a different cat, right? Not only is he welcoming to the media, but respectful. Polite. He also seems to sincerely care about the academic aspect of college. You can tell by the programs he put in place in Morgantown.
So, I asked Trickett about Brown. Trickett has been a graduate assistant for Nick Saban at Alabama and Bobby Bowden and Jimbo Fisher at Florida State. He was once a student assistant at WVU under Rich Rodriguez.
This was Trickett’s response:
“I’ve worked for some really good head coaches,” Trickett said. “And I couldn’t be more excited to work for this man than I am. Like when I worked for Coach [Nick] Saban, he can have that fourth-and-one mentality. But what sets Coach Brown apart is he’s relationship driven. He genuinely respects everybody’s role from the players, coaches, staff, everybody. He appreciates everybody’s role. He’s someone you can go and talk to, but he’ll also hold you to the fire to be accountable. He does a great job of stretching us – coaches and players – so we’re always advancing. It’s how he holds himself accountable. He’s very smart. He’s very disciplined.
“He could go to the local bar and shoot the crap or he could go to the lake and hang out. He could probably walk into a company right now and run it.”
Then the nation’s events of last week hit. Footage of an arrest of George Floyd in Minneapolis. The white officer kneeling on black Floyd’s neck for several minutes as Floyd said, “I can’t breathe.” The subsequent death of Floyd. The widespread protests and violence that swept our country.
And I wondered how or if Brown would respond.
On Sunday, we all got the answer. The WVU head coach did indeed address the situation and shared his thoughts and feelings to his 75,000 Twitter followers.
He began by saying he first felt “totally overwhelmed and incompetent” to express his thoughts on the “murder of George Floyd and the topic of social injustice.” Yet he did what many of us must: listen. He listened to the words of Tony Dungy and Killer Mike.
And then he echoed to us on Twitter what he told his team in a Thursday Zoom meeting.
“My heart hurts,” he wrote. “I’m sick. I can’t relate. I don’t understand. But I do care. I want to help. We ALL must be better. Hate can’t win.
“The following are two quotes I’ve shared with our players over the last couple of days. I hope they can benefit you as well.
“1. ‘Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garmet of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.’ Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. from his ‘Letter from the Birmingham Jail.’
“2. ‘Hate – It has caused a lot of problems in this world, but it hasn’t solved one yet.’ Maya Angelou.
“This morning,” Brown continued. “[wife] Brooke and I sat down with our youngest two children, Dax (5) and Anslee (9), to talk through and explain the protests, riots and events over the last couple of days. As we talked through racism and injustice, their young minds couldn’t comprehend. Children, not just my kids, don’t see the world through that lens. These are learned thoughts and behaviors, which gives me hope we can and will do better. Change begins at home.”
Brown finished with words from the Thomas Rhett song “Be A Light.”
“In a world full of hate, be a light. When you do something wrong, make it right. Don’t hide in the dark. You were born to shine. In a world full of hate, be a light.”
After reading that, I paused for a minute. Then I remembered what Trickett told me at the end of the aforementioned “softball” question.
“I love working for Coach Brown,” Trickett said, “because he makes me better.”
Let’s hope such words, along with much dialogue ahead, makes us all better.
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Mitch Vingle covered sports in West Virginia for 38 years. Follow Mitch on Twitter at @MitchVingle and be sure to check out the rest of Wheelhouse Creative’s website for your marketing and advertising needs. If interested, call us at 304-905-6005.