Major League Baseball’s all-time leader in strikeouts is Reggie Jackson, who whiffed a whopping 2,597 times. No pitcher in modern baseball history lost more games than Nolan Ryan’s 292. There’s a certain honor in holding a record for futility such as those – you brought enough to the table that you were allowed to try and fail so many times.
Amos Alonzo Stagg has long held the college football coaching record at 199. On Saturday, Watson Brown may surpass him, becoming the first coach in the game’s history to lose 200 games. Brown is not at the level of his peers, at 127-197-1, he hasn’t had an above .500 record since 1984, but there is a reason he’s in his 29th season as a head coach at his sixth different head coaching job.
“I think the reason he’s been able to stay (a head coach) is he’s always moved the ball,” Mack Brown said. “He’s always scored points. People like points. He’s always gone within the rules. He’s never had a violation. Never been turned into the NCAA. Never been investigated. And he’s a good guy. He reaches out to people. He has a lot of pride. He loves football.”
Complicating this dynamic, of course, is Watson’s younger brother, Mack. One is headed to the College Football Hall of Fame by the end of the decade, and it’s not Watson.
Ivan Maisel of ESPN.com had a wonderful profile of Watson Brown and his “chase” for the undesired record. There isn’t a lot of difference between Mack and Watson. They essentially lived the same life as brothers born 16 months apart, excelling in football, basketball and baseball, playing football together at Vanderbilt, and then going into the family business after college: coaching.
Early in his career, Watson appeared headed toward the same path that Mack eventually found – stardom at the highest level of college football – after posting 14 wins in two seasons as Austin Peay’s head coach at age 30. Brown was in New York to interview for the Army head job when Ray Perkins, who had just left the New York Giants to replace Bear Bryant at Alabama, asked him to be his offensive coordinator. Brown declined, and ended up taking the Cincinnati job that winter. It wasn’t a good fit, and after one 4-6-1 season, Brown left for Rice. After a 4-18 mark in two seasons at Rice, he returned to his alma mater, which was caught in its multi-decade fog at the bottom of the SEC. He went 10-45 at Vandy and was let go after five seasons.
After half a decade as an assistant, Brown found his niche as college football’s turnaround artist. He won 62 games in a dozen years at UAB, moving the program from I-AA to Conference USA, and now he’s back home in Cookeville, Tenn., in his eighth year as the head coach at Tennessee Tech.
“He’s never thought of them as hard places,” said Mack. “He’s thought of them as a fun challenge.”
With the prospect of loss 200 looming Saturday vs. Northern Iowa, Brown has no regrets.
“I’ve been very lucky that I’ve never worked a day in my life. It’s always been fun,” he said. “If I sat around and looked back and said, ‘What would have happened to me if I had been at Oklahoma? What would have happened to me if I had been at Alabama?’ Which I might have been if I had gone a different route to the two times I turned Alabama down. But that has never stayed in my mind very long. That’s what I did! That’s what I decided, and you go on.”
(Photo credit: Robby Klein, ESPN)