Watson Brown retires after 43 seasons as a college coach, last nine at TTU
COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – Watson Brown was introduced as head football coach at Tennessee Tech on Dec. 6, 2006.
It would be his final college coaching position.
On Wednesday, nearly nine years to the day since he was introduced, Brown announced he is retiring from collegiate coaching. It closes the books on an iconic career for one of the nation's most respected college football coaches.
A rising star quarterback at Vanderbilt University, Brown's playing career was cut short by injury, prompting his introduction to the coaching ranks. He spent 43 years in collegiate coaching, 31 seasons as head coach for a total of 348 games.
Brown directed programs at Vanderbilt, Cincinnati, Rice, UAB, and Austin Peay before his arrival back in his hometown to lead the Golden Eagles. He retires after nine seasons as head coach at Tech.
"I'm retiring from college coaching," Brown announced. "I've had a blast for 43 years. This is just the right time to do this.
"I knew when I came to Tennessee Tech that this would be it," he said. "I knew it would be my final college position. I had a goal when I came here, and that was to win a championship. We set the program up that way and it happened.
"That was it, but I didn't want to leave after that. It would have left the cupboard bare, and I didn't want to do that. Now it's back up, and ready to win another in the next couple of years, but I don't think I'm that guy," Brown said.
Director of Athletics Mark Wilson said Brown's retirement was effective immediately and that assistant head coach Dewayne Alexander would serve as acting head coach. Wilson said a national search will begin immediately to identify Tech's next head coach.
He expressed thanks to Brown for his contributions to the championship legacy of the Golden Eagle program.
"I wish to personally thank coach Brown for the work he has done in restoring Tennessee Tech football to a championship-caliber program," Wilson said. "He has been a loyal and valued member of our department during the past nine years.
"He is a respected colleague and I wish him all the best in his future pursuits and thank him for his dedicated service to Tennessee Tech football," Wilson said. "He is a high quality person who has worked extremely hard for the university and our student-athletes."
Brown has also kept a keen eye focused on success in the classroom. His team has been honored each of the past two years by the Football Championship Subdivision Athletic Director's Association (FCS ADA) for having the highest APR in the OVC.
The team has also consistently improved its overall combined team GPA, posting the two highest semester totals during the three past years.
"There are so many people to thank," Brown said. "The players, the coaches, the families. There have been more 3,000 kids who have come by me as head coach. There are a lot of special people through the years. I cherish all of them and want to say a special 'thank you' to all of those people."
Brown pointed out that he is retiring from collegiate coaching, but exploring other options for the future.
"I'm retiring, but I've not quit working," he said. "There are a lot of things I may look at, from the NFL, to being an Athletics Director, to going the radio and television route. There's also a piece left that I didn't ever do, and that was a high school coach. I've always thought those were special guys."
Tech president Philip Oldham expressed his feelings about Brown's contributions to the university.
"On behalf of the entire Tennessee Tech family, I thank Watson for his leadership and friendship," Oldham said. "Getting to spend time with him has been a highlight of my first four years at Tech.
"Watson brought passion and enthusiasm that clearly helped Tech get back to a level of competitiveness. I don't know of another coach more competitive and knowledgeable about football in the country." Oldham said.
"He is forever a part of this community and a significant part of Tech history."
Born and raised in Cookeville, Watson Brown came back home to take the helm of the Golden Eagle program for the 2007 season. Five years later, he led Tech to its first OVC title in 36 years. The veteran coach has used an even-tempered approach to teach his young staff and players, and to earn their respect while enforcing a high level of discipline.
Brown was named in December 2006 as the 10th head football coach in Tennessee Tech University history. He previously coached at two schools that are members of the Ohio Valley Conference, serving as head coach at Austin Peay for two years and assistant coach at Jacksonville State, then a Division II program, for two years.
Those were just two of the stops along a coaching trail that has visited campuses across the country. Following his role at Austin Peay, he also served as head coach at the University of Cincinnati, Rice University, Vanderbilt and UAB. He was an offensive coordinator at Vanderbilt, Mississippi State and the University of Oklahoma, and served as an assistant coach at East Carolina and Texas Tech.
Brown returned to the town where he was a talented baseball, football and basketball player at Cookeville High School. He signed with Vanderbilt out of high school and was a standout quarterback for the Commodores from 1969-72. He is best remembered by many Commodore fans for leading Vandy to a 14-10 victory over Alabama in 1969. Brown was named the Sports Illustrated National Back of the Week for his efforts.
He made his head coaching debut in 1979 in the Ohio Valley Conference directing the Austin Peay Governors, and at age 29, was one of the youngest head coaches in the nation.
While serving as offensive coordinator at Vanderbilt for two seasons (1981-82), Brown's offense set 57 school records and the Commodores posted an 8-3 record and made a Hall of Fame Bowl appearance (1982).
In 1983, Brown served as head coach at Cincinnati, where he led the Bearcats to a season-opening 14-3 victory at defending national champion Penn State. He ranks that road victory as one of the most memorable in his long coaching career.
Before coaching at Vanderbilt, Brown was athletic director and head football coach at Rice (1984-85). He led the Owls to two of their best offensive seasons.
From 1986-90, Brown was the head coach at Vanderbilt, his alma mater. In 1991 and 1992, Brown was the offensive coordinator at Mississippi State under head coach Jackie Sherrill. During those two seasons, the Bulldogs posted a 14-10 record, made two bowl appearances and upset three nationally ranked opponents.
In 1995, Brown established the football program at UAB and served as head coach for 12 years. The remarkable growth of the UAB program under Brown's guidance was a major factor in UAB's entry into Conference USA play in 1999. Under Brown, UAB was bowl eligible three times in seven seasons and in 2004 attained a previously elusive first bowl invitation with a trip to Honolulu to play in the Sheraton Hawaii Bowl. His team climbed as high as No. 24 in the national polls.
Prior to going to UAB, Brown was the offensive coordinator at the University of Oklahoma (1993-94).
Coaching is a big part of Brown's family. His brother Mack Brown was the head coach, most recently at Texas, and won a national championship with the Longhorns. His grandfather, Eddie "Jelly" Watson, was a legendary prep football coach, compiling a 106-51-13 record at Cookeville High School. Brown's brother Mel resides in Cookeville.
Brown's many achievements as a student-athlete and later as a coach in the state of Tennessee have not gone unnoticed. Eight years ago he was inducted into the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame.
In 2010, the National Football Foundation recognized Watson by selecting him as the recipient of the Roy Kramer Contribution to Football Award. In 2011, he was voted as the Ohio Valley Conference Coach of the Year.