Basketball practice officially started yesterday, and for the first time in 13 years, Bruce Brown is not part of it. That is sad.
Brown has been in the county school system for 16 years as a physical education teacher, for which he has a reputation as being an outstanding teacher, and for the last 13 as the junior varsity basketball coach at Andover High. Andover, of course, merged with Brooklyn Park High at the end of last year to become North County High.
The dean of county basketball coaches, Dick Hart, who had been Andover's coach for 29 years, was named to start the new program at North County. But after a cancerous brain tumor led to complications, Hart was unable to return to teaching and coaching, and he still is battling the horrible disease.
When longtime Hart assistant Dan Krimmelbein said he didn't want the head coaching position, the school opened up the job for applications.
Brown thought his time finally had come, but instead received quite a jolt when ex-Meade High assistant hoop coach Brad Wilson landed the job, his first head varsity assignment.
Wilson, who like Brown teaches outside the school, was an assistant football coach to Chuck Markiewicz at North County this fall.
After playing for Hart at Andover High and later coaching under the man for 13 years, in addition to making his home in the community, Brown was devastated when he didn't get the job.
"I thought I had a great shot. It was a very big disappointment and also embarrassing in that people think (I) must not be a good coach," said Brown. "A lot has to be said for loyalty. You say, what's the use?"
A few years ago, Brown had an opportunity to go somewhere else and coach, but remained loyal to Hart and Andover, hoping that one day his turn would come. Brown says he has no problem with Wilson and that "he's a good guy and I wish him well, but his qualifications were no better than mine."
North County athletic director Mike Baker (the former Brooklyn Park High hoop coach) and Sally Entsminger (the former Andover girls coach now the North County girls coach) felt Wilson had an edge. Principal William Wentworth agreed and accepted their recommendation.
"All three candidates we interviewed impressed us and they were pretty even, but Brad had the edge having worked with Butch (Young, Meade head coach) in a legitimate 4A program," said Baker. "We were hoping to hire someone with 4A experience."
Andover was a Class 3A school, so Brown didn't meet that criteria, although Hart did when he first was hired as North County coach. The other candidate, Al Pindell, has only one year of 4A experience, that at Arundel last season with Gerald Moore.
Moore and Pindell have worked with many of the North County players at Lindale Junior High where they ran a ninth-grade team and during the summer with their AAU program.
"In our humble opinions, Brad was the best man to fit our needs, but believe me it was a tough call," said Wentworth, who did not sit in on the three interviews. "We (Baker and Entsminger) sat down before the interviews started and made up a list of pertinent questions they would ask.
"Everyone was asked the same questions and they recommended Brad. I went along with their recommendation."
Wentworth pointed out that the top two 4A basketball programs in the county over the last decade have been Annapolis and Meade. Wilson's eight years as an assistant to Young played a major part in the final decision.
"Brad comes to us from one of the top two programs in the county, and the bottom line is Bruce had 13 years of service at Andover, but not at North County High," said Wentworth. "I compare our decision of choosing Brad over Bruce to a baseball hitter -- if a guy bats .300, you've got a heckuva hitter, but if somebody else hits .320, he's a little bit better."
Wentworth said he was concerned about what kind of message their final decision would send because "we had three quality people to consider, but we were looking to bring in the best person for our needs."
Brown said his interview went fine and that it was cordial, but added, "I know the kids, live in the community and they had originally said they would hire coaches from within the school."
He said he got upset near the end of last season, when he received a letter from North County that he would not be interviewed for the junior varsity job.
"But when Dick (Hart) got the job, he asked me to coach JV and I accepted," said Brown, who made it clear in his job interview that if he didn't get the head varsity coaching position that he would not take the JV.
Veteran youth coach Phil Solloway, who coached the North County junior varsity soccer team this fall, was named this week to coach the junior varsity boys basketball team. Krimmelbein will be Wilson's assistant, and Brown for the first time will be a spectator.