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FOOTBALL COACH OF THE YEAR: Fire still burning in Eagles’ Brown

READ MORE: Football All-Area teams and player capsules.

 

In his office at Colonial Forge High School, Bill Brown has a quote posted within easy view of his desk that says: “If your past achievements are your finish line, then you’re finished.”

It’s a mantra the Eagles’ head football coach has lived by throughout a decorated career that includes two state championships, five title game appearances and induction into the Virginia High School League Hall of Fame in 2001.

He’s also applied it in his efforts to build Colonial Forge into a powerhouse in the VHSL’s highest division.

“My past achievements aren’t my finish line,” Brown said. “I don’t feel the stress that I once felt, but I still feel the burning desire to be successful.”

Brown, 62, has found the sweet spot in coaching—that point in his career where he has accomplished all there is to accomplish, which eases some of the weekly pressure to win, while at the same time possessing all the knowledge and drive to reach the mountaintop again.

He and his hardworking staff at Forge came within two wins of leading the Eagles to their first-ever state championship this season. They did so while facing quite possibly the toughest regular-season schedule in the VHSL’s 6A classification, a slate that included seven playoff teams with a combined 69–19 record.

The Eagles went 10–4 and made their first appearance in the state semifinals, where they fell to Oscar Smith 17–0 on a miserably wet day in Chesapeake.

For his accomplishments in his seventh year at Colonial Forge, Brown was named The Free Lance–Star’s football coach of the year.

Following Brown’s lead, the Eagles took a business-like approach to every week of the season, refusing to put too much emphasis on any one opponent, whether they were facing 5A state runner-up Briar Woods or a team with a lesser résumé.

“It doesn’t matter if he’s playing a 6–0 team or an 0–6 team, his approach out there on the practice field, you wouldn’t know the difference,” Colonial Forge athletic director Jeff Berry said.

“He’s been there, done that. There was no sense of urgency, like, ‘Oh, it’s playoff time.’ It was just another game, and the kids fed off that. The kids didn’t play uptight. They didn’t get nervous. They just went out there and played, and I think that contributed to what they were able to do this year.”

WEEKLY CHALLENGES

Almost every opponent posed a major and unique challenge for the Eagles, from Briar Woods and Hermitage in nondistrict play to the murderer’s row of Commonwealth District foes like North Stafford, Massaponax and Mountain View.

It was a challenge Brown relished, and it’s one he looks forward to again next season when the Eagles play those same exact teams.

“I think I know what it feels like to coach in the Southeastern Conference,” Brown says of the college football conference that has produced the last seven national champions.

Brown instilled a belief in his players that they could go far despite a schedule the coach considers his toughest in 30 years as a head coach.

“Coming in, we saw the schedule, and I was like, ‘This guy, what has he done?’ We were playing teams that played on TV,” senior Daniel Ezeagwu said.

“And he was like, ‘We have a tough schedule, but we have a good team. We can do this.’ After all the training, I fully believed in him. I hopped on his train. I trained, and as a captain I told my team, ‘Let’s go. We can do this.’”

The Eagles went 7–3 in the regular season and were battle-tested for the major challenges they faced in the playoffs.

They knocked off Hylton, the team that beat them three times in the previous two seasons, in the region quarterfinals and then topped previously undefeated Ocean Lakes in the region semis before being eliminated by Oscar Smith in the 6A state semifinals.

“I think with our overall schedule, including the playoffs, this is one of the most satisfying coaching seasons that I’ve had based on the challenges that we had,” said Brown, who has 229 career wins in three decades of coaching at Potomac, Hylton and Colonial Forge.

Brown, who retired from coaching once but couldn’t stay away for long, says he isn’t approaching the end of his career yet. He is passionate about working with his players and assistants, and he hasn’t tired of the minutiae that often burns out coaches.

Berry, a first-year AD who coached Brooke Point to eight straight playoff appearances and won the 2005 FLS coach of the year award, said he’s amazed by the amount of work Brown does on a daily basis to keep his program running smoothly.

“You have to have your hands in everything,” Berry said. “He is doing all the dirty work. A lot of young coaches just think they’re the head coach. ‘OK, I’m the head coach now.’ They don’t realize that when they go home, he’s still there working. Before they get to practice, he’s been there long before.

“That’s what I thought was really, really neat. Here’s this man in his 60s, accomplished so much, yet still his ego isn’t so big that he can’t fill up the freaking water coolers. That’s amazing to me.”

LEARNING TO DELEGATE

Brown is still very much a hands-on coach, but he has learned over the years where to surrender control.

He said he lets his coordinators—son John Brown (offense) and Darryl Overton (defense)—do their jobs, chiming in on game-day decisions only when he feels it’s absolutely necessary. The three collaborate together on game plans, a task that was especially important this year with the week-to-week challenges they faced.

“Early in my career, I thought I had to do everything,” Brown said. “I now have the ability to put things in perspective. If you have guys that will work at it, that do their homework and study their film, that do all the off-the-field things for us to be successful, then I don’t have a problem turning things over to them.”

Brown’s veteran perspective helped the Eagles take the next step toward becoming a championship team. They cleared some big hurdles this year, making the state semifinals and beating Hylton, Brown’s old team, for the first time in school history.

There are more challenges ahead, but Brown is convinced he’s on the right track to leading Forge to its ultimate goal of winning a title and becoming a perennial power.

“That’s our goal, and that’s why I coach, and that’s always my goal is that our program is going to be one that our school and our community can be proud of,” Brown said.

“When we were at Potomac those years in the ’80s, I think we won something like 24 district games in a row, and those were some of the top teams in the state. When we got to Hylton and got it rolling, we had a 39-game win streak there, and when I came here, my objective, my goal was that this program would be what those programs were, because we’re doing business the same way.”

Nathan Warters: 540/374-5442

nwarters@freelancestar.com

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