TROY, Ala. — Neal Brown and the Troy Trojans are hoping they’re better equipped to handle success this time around.
The Trojans (8-2) have followed up their best Division I season with another run at the Sun Belt Conference championship, along with one of the biggest wins in program history.
The question now is will they finish better? Troy matched Colorado for the biggest turnaround in FBS last season, going from 4-8 in Brown’s first year to 10-3.
The Trojans even earned the Sun Belt’s first Top 25 ranking only to flop in a 35-3 loss to Arkansas State and lose to Georgia Southern two weeks later before closing with a win over Ohio in the Dollar General Bowl.
“We were burdened with expectations, and it’s a positive burden, maybe before as a program we were ready for them,” said Brown, at 37 the sixth-youngest head coach in FBS.
They’re in the same position again. The Trojans knocked off LSU 24-21 in late September, thrusting the program briefly into a national spotlight more often reserved for Alabama and Auburn in this state.
They responded poorly again, getting upset by struggling in-state rival South Alabama and playing, Brown said, “embarrassingly bad.” Troy has won four straight since then.
“It’s like now have we matured enough to be able to finish the year on a really good run?” Brown said. “It’s not been one of those years where everything just comes together. We’ve kind of had to grind out some wins.”
The former Kentucky offensive coordinator made some tweaks to everything from summer conditioning to managing fall camp, open weeks and in-season practices trying to position his team for a strong finish.
The Trojans, who host Texas State on Nov. 24 and close at Arkansas State, are tied with Georgia State and Appalachian State for the league lead at 5-1. Arkansas State is 4-1.
Troy had won at least a share of five straight league titles from 2006-2010, but didn’t post another winning record until last season.
The rapid turnaround at a program that had fallen on tough times has led to Brown’s name getting floated for bigger head coaching jobs.
Brown insists he hasn’t paid any attention to that talk, mostly staying off social media since the loss to South Alabama and spending his down time with family. With three young kids, he said he’s more likely to listen to Kidz Bop radio than sports talk.
“I know it’s out there,” Brown said. “It’s not really something I’ve had to deal with so far. There’s a lot of movement out there right now. If I get some attention, I think that speaks well probably to what we’ve done collectively as a program over the course of three years.”
Brown received a contract extension through the 2020 season in March and is making about $800,000 this season. His buyout would be nearly $3 million, according to USA Today’s salary database for college coaches.
Troy is set to finish a $24 million football facility and new video board next spring.
“We feel like as a program’s we’re positioned to be really successful,” Brown said.
Athletic director Jeremy McClain knows that the dominoes will start to fall in the coming weeks with more job openings.
“Neal’s done an excellent job and that’s why his name is in the mix, or being rumored, if you will,” McClain said. “That’s the way we want it. There are probably only 10 programs in this country that don’t have to worry about losing their football coach.”
Veteran defensive coordinator Vic Koenning, who has built the Sun Belt’s top defense, says Brown is one of his few bosses who often gets in before he arrives at 5:30 a.m. and is still there when he leaves about 9 p.m.
Brown has studied the programs of coaches like Ohio State’s Urban Meyer, Alabama’s Nick Saban and Minnesota’s P.J. Fleck, Koenning said. A stack of 11 books on coaching and leadership rests on a corner of Brown’s desk.
“He does an immense amount of research and reading,” Koenning said. “He spends a huge amount of time in trying to see how other people do things. Probably the first coach that I’ve worked for where he’s outworking me.