March 29, 2013
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON - If new Marshall running backs coach Thomas Brown has any doubters among his talented young group, he could always tell them that he has footsteps worth following as they go through his position drills at Edwards Stadium.
Brown is only starting his second football year as a backfield coach, but to say he knows the territory would be a gross understatement. He'll reach only his 27th birthday in May, but he brings a wealth of experience to the Herd.
He has had success against Marshall previously, too.
"From the standpoint of being closer to that generation, their generation, I've been there, and I'm not that far removed from the game myself," said Brown, whose five backs donned light pads Friday with the rest of the Herd on Day 3 of spring practice. "I think that helps me connect.
"I can tell them, `Hey, I've been where you're going, did what you're going through and been where you're trying to get to.' And that instantly breaks the ice, kind of gets their attention."
The 5-foot-8 Brown rushed for 2,646 yards (5.0 per carry) and 23 touchdowns in a tough league - the SEC - for home-state Georgia from 2004-07. The Tucker, Ga., native ranks sixth on the Bulldogs' career rushing yards list. He also caught 39 passes for 372 yards for Coach Mark Richt's program.
And back on Sept. 18, 2004 - as a UGa freshman - he rushed for 81 yards on 18 carries in a 13-3 win over the Thundering Herd "between the hedges" at Sanford Stadium.
Brown only joined the Herd's staff in the last two weeks, leaving Georgia State, where he stayed in his first FBS job only two months after making his on-field coaching debut last season at Chattanooga. He's impressed with his unit, which includes sophomores Kevin Grooms, Steward Butler, Remi Watson and Kevin Rodriguez, and redshirt senior Essray Taliaferro.
"The biggest thing is the competition," said Brown, who is married (wife, Jessica) with two children (Orlando and Tyson). "I'm big on competition. The biggest thing I learned when I was a player was I don't care how self-determined you are, it always helped have that extra guy behind you to kind of push you every day.
"We have that here ... you train everybody the same. I want everybody to be able to run the ball effectively - which they can - pick up the blitz, protect the quarterback, catch the ball out of the backfield. You coach fundamentals the same, but they're all different, so I'm not going to coach them all to run the same. But fundamentally, they'll do the same things."
Brown was an NFL sixth-round draft pick by his hometown Falcons in 2008, but his rookie season was derailed by a preseason horse collar tackle, and he ended up on injured reserve. He went to Cleveland the next season and spent most of the year on the Browns' practice squad before retiring as a player.
He wanted to get into coaching then, but it didn't quite work out the way he had planned.
"I never wanted to be a strength coach," Brown said. "I reached out to Coach Richt, who was gracious enough to allow me to be a fulltime (assistant) strength coach. I kind of dibbled and dabbed at it a bit, but ultimately, I wanted to be on the field."
Last February, he got that opportunity with Chattanooga. Thirteen months later, he finds himself with the Herd.
"It was tough leaving (Georgia State)," said Brown, who has a speech communication degree from UGa. "It's a great university, and I was appreciative of the opportunity. That was home, Atlanta, and it was tough to get my wife to leave from there. But Marshall was a great opportunity with a great staff and coach some very talented running backs. It was too good to pass up.
"I know a lot about Marshall's tradition. I knew when I played, but I still have a lot to learn. But I knew of the rich tradition, whether you're talking about what happened in 1970 (the football team plane crash that took 75 lives) to some of the great players that later came through the program and did some great things (in the NFL) after that."
Brown hopes to enhance the Herd run game that blossomed last season with the so-called "baby backs" and a last-game impressive performance by Taliaferro. From 2011 to last season, Marshall climbed from 96th to 55th in FBS rushing offense, improving by 50 ground yards per game as the pass-first Herd ranked in the top 10 nationally in total offense.
"It wasn't too tough," Brown said of his late staff arrival only days before spring drills. "From an offense standpoint, being a running backs coach and having played the position for so long, you just know. Half of the offense, I've pretty much caught up with, and that's the running game.
"Everybody is kind of running some inside zone, outside zone, some type of gap scheme, so that was easy to pick up on. The hardest part was getting to learn our players, but that's starting to come."
Brown said the Herd rushers watch plenty of tape, but none thus far of a No. 20 from the Bulldogs.
"I haven't personally shown them any film (of himself), but they've come to me and said, `Hey, coach, I looked you up on YouTube and saw some film,'" Brown said, laughing. "I'm not that prideful a person to put my own film up, but they've said they've seen me.
"The thing about me, as a coach, is that I'm constantly evolving, constantly growing, and I'm like a sponge. When I'm 57 years old, if I'm still doing this, I'll still be learning the game from everyone around, whether it's the good or bad, so that opportunity to get onto the field is great.
"I understand the type of coach I want to be. I've set my expectations."
He has those for his Herd running backs, too. There's more than on-the-field performance.
"I want them to leave here as grown men," Brown said. "I want them to be responsible, able to take care of themselves ... That's as important as anything we do out here."