Jason Brown's life is about to change. So is the next Ollie's, and the next John Franklin's, and the next Brittany Wagner's. They don't know who they are yet and neither do we, but it's going to happen.
Netflix announced Thursday its hit series "Last Chance U" was officially renewed for a third season, with the focus moving from East Mississippi Community College to Independence Community College in Independence, Kan. FootballScoop conducted the following interview with Pirates head coach Jason Brown (left) following the announcement -- with "Last Chance U" cameras rolling in Brown's office, of course.
FootballScoop: How did Independence and the producers first get in touch? Did you call them or did they call you?
Brown: They called us in the early spring. I really wasn't interesting in being put on film, to be honest. I'm not that guy; I'm a little bit raw and uncut, you could say. I really wasn't fond of the show. At times I thought there were some things that were shown that made junior college kids look a little bad, so I wasn't really interested. After sitting down, thinking about it, talking to other people, I said, 'Well, you know this is a different story, a different situation than East Mississippi.' I said I could spin it in the right light, in a positive manner. I think Greg Whiteley, who's the producer and the director of the show, does a great job. I said between the two of us we could come up with a storyline that is really raw, uncut and honest. I'm going to be brutally honest. I don't care about the cameras or anything like that, they know that, I think, and that's why they chose us.
FootballScoop: What was the process like after those first conversations?
Brown: They came back a couple different times, followed me to Los Angeles where I'm from back in late spring and they let me know at that time, and obviously it was just released so we've held our tongue on this for a while. Contrary to belief that other schools turned it down, that wasn't true at all. My staff and my kids can be shown in a positive manner now. They deserve it. What makes me a great recruiter is I'm a great judge of character, and I feel like they were honest and truthful as I am. It's a good fit for both parties.
FootballScoop: What were the conversations like with your president and your AD? Did either of them take any convincing?
Brown: Our president Dan Barwick and then my athletic director and the VP of the college Tammie Geldenhuys, those two were all in. They know that our town is in a little bit of a recession [Amazon recently closed a warehouse in nearby Coffeyville] a lot of the population dried up. It hurt the town, and my first reasoning behind doing it is that at the end of the day to help this community and give them something that they would probably never have again or have they had prior. Independence has a lot of good things that's offered in a small, rural town in southeast Kansas. I've already got eight coaches 4-year jobs since I've been here for 18 months, this will only help them out. It'll help continue to do what we do better than anybody, which is graduate our players and get them Division I scholarships, which we've proven. We've got 30 kids plus with Division I offers right now and they're all playing on graduating in December. That's our whole goal.
FootballScoop: It was widely reported that the producers were considering a number of schools as finalists. Did you have to do any pitching about why they should come to Independence?
Brown: I didn't. The truth of the matter is when they came to me they said, 'Coach, we're picking school and the coach that we think would make the best TV, us using our gut instincts to figure out if this is the spot.' And I said, 'I'm just going to be honest with you, I don't really care if you've got cameras. If you choose us I'm either going to be at Independence next year or I'm going to be at Alabama or I'm going to be fired. It is is what it is.' They got a kick out of that and they chose us. They said they chose us because of me. That's fine and dandy, I'm not really boasting or anything. It doesn't really mean anything to me. I'm pleased as punch that my kids have the opportunity to be showcased and my staff get the chance to show the world that junior college coaches really grind, they do the extra and they go above and beyond what a 4-year coach does. That's just the nature of the beast, that's the truth of the matter. We have to do things that the 4-year schools don't have to do. We get our kids in an 18-month cycle. We don't get to mold these kids in four or five years; we've got to do it in 18 months. Our recruiting is the hardest in the country. We have to go find the non-qualifiers or the kids that are leaving a 4-year, get them here, get them graduated and then try to make them a better person in an 18-month span, if that.
We're doing our job better than anybody in the country. That's just the truth. When I got the job here we had a 1.1 team GPA. I changed the culture, and our first spring we had a 3.5, which led the Jayhawk Conference in GPA. I pride myself on that. I get more out of that than winning football games. If I can get kids scholarships and graduate them and get coaches jobs, that's what this is about. We ultimately win because we do the right thing, and I've always won because of that. But I don't strive to win football games in junior college because bottom line is if we win the national title, two years from now nobody's going to know what ring we are wearing. But if you win the BCS national championship that's going to be remembered forever. We're the unsung heroes and we turn boys into men, and a lot of people don't know that. Greg Whiteley and "Last Chance U" and Netflix have done a great thing with this show, 60-million plus viewers or whatever, I think this is a great opportunity to show that junior college kids go through a struggle wherever.
FootballScoop: You said you haven't changed with the cameras around. What about your players and coaches?
Brown: It hasn't changed at all. That's why they chose us. They knew, believed and trusted that I wasn't going to change. I haven't and my staff hasn't. I think we forget the cameras are even there at times. It might be to my detriment, I don't know. You look at different people that get attention, is it negative or positive? I don't know. They could be a marketing genius, I don't know. But you're going to be scrutinized either way. I've been scrutinized and hated on my entire life. It's what it is. I truly believe if you don't have haters you're not doing something right. I think I do enough right where people are always going to say something negative about me, and now my coaches are going to have to learn and go through that battle as well. I think the reward outweighs the risk. I have big shoulders. I can take it. I'll lead these guys and these coaches into battle every week. I told them yesterday, 'We shouldn't lose any games. Worst case scenario is we're either going to win or we're going to learn. We're never going to lose.' That's what they have to understand.
FootballScoop: You're going to be a focal character on a show that gets in 60 million living rooms, or whatever the number is. Have you thought about how that could change things for you, personally and professionally?
Brown: I haven't. My thing is, I'm pretty content, man. I'm going to have the best players in America. I've got about 20 guys with Power 5 offers. A lot of 4-year Division I (schools) don't have that on their roster, you know what I mean? Bottom line is, I can touch more people here than I can at a 4-year, in my opinion. I love juco. I'm a juco product. I'm a Compton College alumnus. Former Junior College All-American in California. I love junior college. Would I take a big time job at a 4-year? I'm not going to lie and say I wouldn't. I don't know. I've had Division I interviews before. I haven't got the job for whatever reason. A lot of times it's who you know, not what you know. I think I can coach with anybody in America and I can recruit with anybody in America. That's a proven fact and every Division I coach in America knows that, that's why they recruit my players more than the average. I've graduated 150 guys to Division I and I've got about 22 in the NFL. A lot of Division I coaches can't say that. I've never coached a down in Division I. I've never really yearned for it, but if it does come along, so be it. But I'm perfectly content right here. I've got a beach house in LA and I'm never giving that up. So long as I have that, I'll be good.
This interview was edited and condensed for clarity.