Lawrence lures Brown out of retirement

Published 9:24 am Friday, June 14, 2024

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MERRY HILL – After spending nearly 40 years as a coach and teacher, Robert Brown hung up his whistle and closed his playbook on June 29, 2023.

Taking a break from a weightlifting session, newly hired Lawrence Academy head football coach Robert Brown poses for a photo with one of his young players, sophomore Ayden Foster. Staff Photo by Cal Bryant

His retirement lasted less than one year.

Brown is the new head football coach at Lawrence Academy. He said his return to coaching was due to his doctors clearing him in February from back surgery last year.

“I’ve been wanting to get back into coaching, but I didn’t want to get back into the classroom. So I was looking for that type of opportunity,” said Brown, who coached and taught at Bertie High School for 30 years.

As an assistant on coach Roy Bond’s football staff, Brown helped the Falcons win a pair of NCHSAA state titles (1995, 2000). He closed his career as Bertie’s Athletic Director from 2021-2023.

Brown said he was told about Lawrence coaching job in March and called to set up an interview with Katrina Ford, Head of School.

“I later met with some of the parents and players at Lawrence prior to being hired,” Brown said.

Even upon learning that he was the school’s top choice as head football coach, Brown said they didn’t “talk salary” until after he accepted the job.

“The big thing isn’t the money,” he noted. “The big thing is getting back to coaching because that’s what I love to do. I missed being out there on the sideline and working with the players.”

His employment contract with Lawrence does require Brown to teach a strength and conditioning class during the afternoons.

“That’s just about the time I would typically come in to start getting things ready for football practice, so the timing of that class is perfect,” he said. “Then, after football season ends, I’ll still be able to have contact with my players by continuing with that class.”

Thus far, Brown said it appears that he’ll have 26-to-27 players this coming season. The Warriors will boast of five seniors who were part of last year’s team that posted a 6-5 overall record.

“We’ve been doing some work in the weight room this summer and the kids that are coming in are real enthusiastic and willing to learn,” he observed. “They seem excited that I’m here. I’m excited. I’m happy for the opportunity to return to coaching.”

One of the good things about having a limited number of players is that Brown may not have to make any roster cuts.

“As long as you come out and put in the work, everything is good,” he said. “If I have to send a player home because they can’t behave, then I look at that as them cutting themselves from the roster.”

Brown said he is still fine-tuning his offensive and defensive schemes, He promised that Lawrence fans will see an aggressive defense.

“We might give up some big plays because of that aggressiveness, but I’ll trade those off for the problems we can cause defensively,” he said. “That all starts with learning the right way to tackle. That’s something we’re going to work hard on each and every practice, along with special teams play.

“Offensively, I’m adopting coach Bond’s scheme to fit 8-man football,” Brown continued. “We’ll change our look depending on how our opponents line up defensively. We’ll take whatever you give us. We can run it or we can throw it.”

As far as his staff of assistant football coaches, Brown said he was still in the process of putting that group together. He stressed they will all be volunteer coaches.

“Together, we’re going to learn what it takes to build a winning football program,” Brown stressed. “I know that Lawrence is known as a baseball school. What I want to see is it to be also called a football school.

“I’m here to stay; I’m not using this opportunity as a stepping stone to go somewhere else,” Brown added. “They’ll either fire me or the Lord will tell me it’s time to quit.”

Brown said he learned the most about the organizational skills of coaching when he was a student at Old Dominion University.

“Paul Webb was ODU’s basketball coach at that time,” Brown recalled. “I was one of the student trainers and I listened and learned from coach Webb of how he handled practice and game-time decisions. I saw how he handled practice schedules. It doesn’t matter what sport you coach, you’ve got to have things organized.”

His first job as a head football coach was at Columbia High School. He had 21 players on an 11-man team that was coming off a one-win season.

“We went 6-and-4 that first year, won the first six games in a row before losing our starting running back and quarterback,” Brown recalled. “I loved those kids. They didn’t quit; we just got bit by the injury bug….that happens all too often in athletics.”

A native of Franklin, VA, Brown started his coaching career in 1985 at Elizabeth City Junior High School where he was the head coach of the middle school football and boys basketball programs.

He moved to Roper (Washington County) in 1987 where he spent two years coaching football and baseball. In 1989, Brown was named the head football coach and varsity girls basketball coach at Columbia High School. He also coached the middle school baseball team there for two years.

Brown spent one year (1992) coaching middle school boys and girls basketball at Bear Grass before taking the job at Bertie High School in 1993 as the junior varsity football coach and also handled sports medicine.

“If we have the season I think we can have this year at Lawrence, it will some measure of vindication for me personally,” Brown said, noting the times he was allowed to be the interim varsity head coach in order to keep the program together until a new head man was hired. “It’s my time to prove that I’m the right man for the job.

“If I can get the players and the staff to believe in what I’m asking them to do, we can and will build a winning tradition here at Lawrence Academy,” Brown closed.

Practice for the 2024 football campaign officially opens July 29. The first game of the regular season is Aug. 16.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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