With 258 career victories and five state championships as a head coach, former Berkeley High coach Jerry Brown is hoping for one final coaching stint to end his career on a positive note.
Brown, 64, retired from coaching after the 2010 season at Berkeley, ending an 18-year run that included three state championships. The Stags never had a losing season under Brown and the program produced three future NFL players and dozens of college athletes.
The coach returned to the midlands of South Carolina and became the athletic director at Fairfield-Central High in Winnsboro. But the itch to coach would not go away and Brown returned to the sidelines after one year, taking over the Class AA program at Batesburg-Leesville. In his second season (2013), Brown led the Panthers to the Division II-AA state championship.
“Some people don’t retire well. I don’t retire well because this is what I do,” said Brown. “I coach football and I influence young people. I try to shape the lives of young people.”
An opportunity to return to where his coaching career started — Spring Valley High School — was too good to pass up and Brown left Batesburg-Leesville with the idea of finishing out his career at Spring Valley. Brown spent four years at Spring Valley during the 1980s, winning the Division I-AAAA state title in 1988.
The 2014 season turned out to be one of the most frustrating in Brown’s career. Though the Vikings managed six victories, Brown knew my midseason that he had to leave. He never felt he had the support of some members of his coaching staff and made it clear to the school’s administration that he needed the leeway to make changes.
“I told my wife in the middle of the season that I wasn’t coming back,” said Brown, who has a 258-113 career record as a head coach. “I was told before I went there to watch my back and I was told during the season to watch my back. Looking back now, it was good advice. We had people within the program determined to make it difficult.”
Brown had a change of heart when he was named the head coach of the South Carolina Shrine Bowl team for 2015. He decided to stick it out at Spring Valley for one more season.
Things completely fell apart in January when a student accused Brown of slapping him during a class demonstration on discipline. The accusations prompted a law enforcement investigation and much negative publicity. Though the investigation yielded no charges and Brown was completely exonerated, the Richland 2 school district placed Brown on administrative leave while it conducted its own investigation. That prompted Brown to resign.
“Someone took me playing around with kids and turned it into something that it wasn’t,” said Brown. “It really got blown up and it was unfortunate. It was a situation where those in power took the side of misinformation and the people I was told to watch my back with had a lot to do with it.
“I’ve tried to be quiet and be respectful. I tried to respond in a Christ-like way and walk away from it. I think everyone understands what really happened. People know me and they know what I am about. I’m the same guy I was 45 years ago. The one person who will not mistreat kids is me. People that know me know who I am.”
These days, Brown is looking for another head coaching opportunity. He lost his spot as the Shrine Bowl head coach because rules state that a coach must be a current head coach. Brown applied for the head coaching position at St. John’s in Charleston but did not get the job.
“I want to be a head coach again,” said Brown. “I have a lot left in the tank. People ask me about a five-year plan, well I have a 10-year plan. I feel great. I work out six days a week and as long as my body holds up, my heart is in coaching.
“Being a coach is a treasured role. Football coaches, in small communities, can have as much impact as a minister. I have the same heart and desire to coach and impact lives as I did 45 years ago.”
It is unlikely Brown will be hired for a head coaching job for the upcoming season. One job that is sure to draw his interest next year is at Summerville, where the position is being filled on an interim basis by Joe Call for this season. Call, who played quarterback at Summerville and has been a Green Wave assistant since 2003 and offensive coordinator since 2007, takes over for his grandfather John McKissick, who retired last month at the age of 88.
“I might get a lot of death threats from Berkeley fans if I apply for that job,” joked Brown. “Certainly it’s a great job at a great program. I have a tremendous amount of respect for coach McKissick and for all that he has done. We’ll have to wait and see what happens.”
Former Berkeley star running back Andre Ellington, who played at Clemson and is now a third-year pro with the Arizona Cardinals, says his former coach is more than deserving of another head coaching opportunity.
“He’s a great person, a great man and a great role model and what happened to him was not fair,” said Ellington. “He teaches winning — in football and in life. I have no doubt he can still coach and he will win wherever he goes.”