If his Blazers upset No. 10 Georgia, it will be the team’s first victory over a top 10 opponent. In the more likely event the Bulldogs (2-0, 1-0 SEC) win, Watson will extend a more dubious personal mark.
Already the losingest active college football coach in any NCAA division, Watson will move a little closer to sixth place all-time with another defeat.
With a career record 92-143-1, Brown is a living testament to the dead end job. The Blazers are Brown’s fifth team, and, thanks almost solely to his efforts, the most glamorous. His first four stops: Austin Peay (two years), Cincinnati (one year), Rice (two years) and Vanderbilt (five years).
“I think it’s obvious that when you take the jobs that I took,” Brown said, “you take your shots, and that’s what you live with.”’
He’s also football’s answer to the old baseball axiom that a starting pitcher must be pretty good to lose 20 games in a season. The logic? A bad pitcher doesn’t get enough chances to lose that many games.
Georgia coach Mark Richt takes the baseball comparison a step further.
“They say Babe Ruth struck out more than anybody, too,” Richt said. “But he’s known for the homers, you know.”
On the football field, a bad coach, or even an average coach, would have been weeded out long before his 236th game, former Georgia coach Vince Dooley said.
“I think that more than any other profession, coaches know when other coaches do a good job at difficult places,” said Dooley, who coached against Brown as a player and a coach. “Watson’s a classic example of that.”
Brown, the brother of Texas head coach Mack Brown, was a standout quarterback at Vanderbilt from 1969-’72 and took his first full-time coaching job in 1974, when he was hired to coach quarterbacks at East Carolina.
After two years at Austin Peay and one year as the Commodores’ offensive coordinator, Brown made a leap of faith and took the Cincinnati job in 1983. The early returns were fantastic. In his second week, the Bearcats knocked off defending national champion Penn State 14-3.
“When I was hot, and I was real hot at that point, I took two tough jobs back-to-back,” he said, “and they were especially tough when I took them in the mid-80s, maybe not so much now. That’s something you live with, you make quick decisions in your life and you go with them.”
Those jobs were Rice and Vanderbilt, where he compiled a 14-63 record.
“If I had it to do again, I’m not sure I would have gone the route I went, but you don’t get second chances in this business,” he said. “I’m very proud of what I’ve done everywhere I’ve been. Everywhere I’ve been, we’ve been better than our records showed, but at the same time, that’s the record.”
Brown is 60-66 in his 12th season at UAB and is more proud of the job he’s done there than at any other stop.
“Because we’ve done this one from scratch,” he said. “It’s got our signature on it all the way through. And we’ve really done it with very little. What we’ve done so far is get a commitment to keep us alive. Now we have to get a commitment to take it forward.”
UAB was playing in Division I-AA when Brown was hired in 1995, four years after the program was started. He shepherded the team in its jump to I-A the following season, and two years ago, he took the Blazers to the school’s only bowl appearance.
“I think to stay in any program for that length of time is a tremendous accomplishment, but to stay at that program and build it the way he has…” Richt said. “He’s just done a super job.”
Brown passes that credit along to his assistant coaches and players, 16 of whom he recruited from Georgia.
“I couldn’t be prouder of the way our kids have fought and scratched,” he said. “We’ve gone from people saying this is crazy for this university to (go to I-A) to being very, very competitive.”
Brown is now ready to take the next step at UAB by competing regularly for Conference USA titles. The school has yet to win its league and was picked fifth this year.
His plan is two-fold. First, the school is about to embark on its first facility upgrades in 10 years. Since Brown has been there, the Blazers have had their ankles taped in concourse hallways and held position meetings in coaches offices.
“We’re doing a lot of things here that other people aren’t having to do, but we’re still wining football games,” he said.
Once a building commitment is made, UAB will start backing off on its scheduling. Georgia is the 28th team from a BCS league that the Blazers have played in 10 years, Brown said.
“You can’t keep playing these schedules and make the next step in won-loss record,” Brown said. “I think we’ve got to (back off), but we couldn’t up until now for financial reasons. We had to have the dollars. I think the most gratifying thing here has been the consistency. We’ve hovered around .500, up and down both sides of it, while playing unbelievably tough schedules.”
That his career record is far from the break-even mark isn’t something that keeps Brown up at night.
“When you’re around as a head coach as long as I’ve been, you’ve got a lot games, good or bad, it can be either,” he said. “All I care about is what I’ve done, and how I’ve gone about it. I’m proud of that. The record is what it is.”
(National ranking after two games)
Rushing 65th 129.5 ypg
Rushing defense 59th 119.5 ypg allowed
Passing 73rd 184 ypg
Passing defense 99th 253.5 allowed
Scoring 92nd 17 ppg
Scoring defense 51st 18 ppg allowed
1. Amos Alonzo Stagg 340-201-36
2. Hayden Fry 232-178-10
3. Eddie Robinson 408-165-15
4. Jess Neely 187-159-17
5. Jim Sweeney 200-154-4
6. Scrappy Moore 171-148-13
7. Watson Brown 92-143-1
8. Bob Ford 211-143-1
9. Buddy Benson 161-140-9
9. Ken Hatfield 168-140-4
*Source: McClatchy Newspapers