Limelight gets a coach's pass

Coppin: For Eagles assistant Derek Brown, moving up in the coaching world, meaning heavy recruiting and time away from family, would be a step down.

From the perimeter

February 24, 1999|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

Derek Brown has watched other Coppin State assistant coaches go big time. He saw Bruiser Flint leave for the University of Massachusetts, first as an assistant under John Calipari and later as Calipari's successor. He saw Nate Blackwell return to Temple, his alma mater, to work for John Chaney.

Brown had a chance to go after an assistant's job at Maryland a few years ago. He also had a pretty good connection -- Brown had played his senior year in high school for Gary Williams, and helped launch Williams' coaching career by helping lead undefeated Woodrow Wilson of Camden, N.J., to the state title.

It wasn't difficult for Brown to decline the offer to interview.

"I didn't want to get into that high-profile rat race of recruiting in the ACC," Brown, 46, said last week, sitting in his office at the Coppin Center.

"I don't worry about money that much, as long as I'm content. When you go into assistant coaching at that level, you're more in the recruiting end than coaching on the floor. I don't want to be a salesman."

What Brown wants is to continue a relationship with Coppin State head coach Fang Mitchell that goes back to their childhoods in Camden.

Brown used to tag along with his older brother, Gary, who was a friend of Mitchell's. They began working together when Mitchell hired Brown at Gloucester County (N.J.) College in 1978, then brought Brown with him to Baltimore in 1986.

Long before Mitchell hired him, Brown knew he wanted to coach. After graduating from Montclair (N.J.) State in 1974, Brown served as a school police officer in Camden and later as a corrections officer in a county jail there.

"Being a point guard all my life, I always had aspirations of coaching," said Brown.

"Even when I was a kid, I would sit down and coach a basketball game on television, trying to figure out things I would do and wouldn't do."

Brown coached two games at Coppin during the 1994-95 season when Mitchell was laid up with back problems.

Neither the agony of a one-point defeat at North Carolina A&T nor the thrill of a one-sided victory over South Carolina State made him think about looking elsewhere for a head coaching job.

If anything, Brown considers himself an unofficial head coach simply because Mitchell does, too.

"Anytime you have someone who's been there so long, even I look at it as having two head coaches," said Mitchell, who is also Coppin State's athletic director. "He's in charge of the offense. I'm in charge of the defense. He runs practice when I can't get there or starts it when I'm running late. We make sure he's recognized for what he does."

Brown enjoys being on the periphery and his low-key personality is a perfect fit with Mitchell's demonstrative one.

In part because of that, and because Mitchell is Brown's boss, the two don't socialize much outside of coaching. But Mitchell is clear to point out that, "The success of Coppin State basketball is definitely not one-folded when it comes to the coaching."

The way Brown looks at it, being the Bill Guthridge of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference to Mitchell's Dean Smith is not such a bad thing.

"He respects what I have to say and I say a lot on the bench," said Brown. "It's not that I'm sitting there counting fouls. But there is a difference. The kids will come out asking me, `Why did he [Mitchell] take me out?' And I'll tell them, `I haven't made a substitution all year.' "

Brown could have pursued head-coaching jobs, especially after Coppin's three trips to the NCAA tournament and one NIT appearance.

Moving up would have meant more money, yet it also would have meant less time for his wife, Joy, a Baltimore County teacher who is now involved in mentoring, as well as their 11-year-old son, Jordan, who was named after the Rock Hudson character in the movie, "Giant", and not after you-know-who.

Joy and Derek have been together since high school and have been married 12 years. She said he was very involved in raising Jordan when he was small.

"He used to take care of the mornings and I would take care of him in the evenings," she said.

"I like my time off when I get it," said her husband. "And getting a head-coaching job hinders that."

Not that Brown has much time off these days. Aside from helping prepare the Eagles (14-13, 13-4) for Saturday's final regular-season game at Morgan State, and next week's MEAC tournament in Richmond, Va., Brown recently took on responsibilities as the school's head softball coach.

It was done as a favor to Mitchell, who said kiddingly, "As we know, everyone around here has to have two jobs."

It has made for many 12-hour days, though Brown has found the time to take Jordan to basketball practice. It has also meant that Brown will have to skip going to this year's Final Four in St. Petersburg, Fla.

"It hurt me to my heart, but I don't want to leave the girls at the start of the season," said Brown, who will go back on the road to help Mitchell recruit early in the summer.

"Fang and I played softball together for years, and I had played baseball in high school. He needed a coach for a year or two. I had never coached women before. It's interesting, but it's fun."

Brown expects to retire from Coppin State, probably by the time he's 55. He envisions eventually moving to Cape May, N.J., where he can fish to his heart's content.

Whether or not the Eagles make it back to the national spotlight they held two years ago when they upset South Carolina is of little consequence to Brown.

He's not much of a spotlight kind of guy.

Pub Date: 2/24/99

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