When Liberty running backs coach Ron Brown made the decision to return to Nebraska, Coach Gill immediately dialed up another Brown, Mike, to gauge his interest in the position. After a couple of conversations and interviews, the job offer was made, and Mike accepted to become the Flames’ running backs coach.
“For me, it was a no-brainer,” Mike Brown said of the decision to return to Liberty as a coach. “This is somewhere I’ve always wanted to come back to. It’s always been a dream of mine to come back and coach here at my alma mater. It was a no-brainer for me.”
Mike Brown is one of the best athletes to ever don a Liberty football uniform, exploding on to the scene in the 2009 season opener at West Virginia when he hauled in 11 receptions for 157 yards and a touchdown. He finished the game with 271 all-purpose yards. Brown led the Flames in receiving that year before taking over as quarterback for his final two seasons in Lynchburg. Twice he was named the Big South Player of the Year, a two-time All-American, earning the honor at both wide receiver and quarterback, and he still owns several school records.
After graduating in 2011, he spent three seasons in the NFL with the Jacksonville Jaguars, amassing 39 receptions for 534 yards and 2 touchdowns. He was cut by the Carolina Panthers following training camp in 2015. He then decided it was time for him to move on, and, hopefully, begin coaching, something he had wanted to do since early in his college career.
Long-time assistant coach Jedd Fisch, who was Mike’s Offensive Coordinator in Jacksonville, had joined Jim Harbaugh’s staff at Michigan a year prior. The two reconnected and Mike was brought on as a volunteer assistant helping with the running backs for the 2016 season.
Despite leading the Flames in rushing in 2010, Brown had never played the position he was now tasked to help coach. Michigan’s running backs coach at the time was Tyrone Wheatley, who was a standout running back for the Wolverines in the 1990s. Wheatley then played in the NFL for a decade with the Giants and Raiders before beginning his coaching career. He’s been a running backs coach since 2008 at several stops including Syracuse and also in the NFL with the Bills and Jaguars.
Wheatley took Brown under his wing that season and helped him learn what it took to be a running backs coach. Michigan was ranked as high as #2 in 2016 and finished 10-3 after losing to Florida State in the Orange Bowl. It was Mike’s first time experiencing big time college football.
Mike would reconnect with his college coach, Danny Rocco, in 2017, joining Rocco as running backs coach in Danny’s first season as head coach at Delaware. Brown then spent the 2018 spring season as wide receivers coach at Western Illinois before answering Coach Gill’s call.
“The biggest thing I’ve learned (at all my stops) was how to run a program, the importance of culture,” Brown explained. “That’s sort of been the theme of the successful places I’ve been. Everywhere that I have coached thus far has had winning seasons, a winning tradition. I’ve been blessed. I’ve been very, very fortunate to have worked with great coaches my entire career since high school.”
Throughout his NFL and coaching career, Brown stayed connected to the Liberty program, even streaming games on his phone in the back of meetings during his NFL days. Being able to relate to his student-athletes, and showing them how to get where they want to go, will be invaluable as he returns to a place he calls home.
“To all the guys here, I’ve been through it, here,” Mike said. “I’ve been where they are, and I’ve been where most of them want to go. I have a little bit of experience. Everybody’s path is going to be different, but just being able to share my experiences, things that I’ve learned, things that I have seen, I think that allows me to communicate on a different level.”
Since Brown last played at Williams Stadium in 2011, a lot has changed on campus and with the football program. Rocco left to become the head coach at Richmond immediately after Brown had used up all of his collegiate eligibility, Turner Gill was hired to replace Rocco, the Flames joined the FBS ranks, and, now, the Bill is undergoing a large renovation. The last time Williams Stadium underwent renovations, in 2010, Brown was entering his junior season with the Flames.
“When I came on my official visit here, and walked down to the weight room (in the FOC), it was just an empty floor, it didn’t have any weights in there,” Brown said. “So, this building (the FOC) was brand new. To see (the facilities) now, it’s just unbelievable. The thing I constantly remind myself of is how did we get here. The things that it took when we were going and practicing at the Hancock on those back fields, the guys that paved the way, and the sacrifices and dedication that they made, it’s definitely an appreciation for that. Also, understanding all the hard work it took to get here, it takes that much and more to continue to build. It’s a constant reminder every time I walk out there and see that whole big expansion. I know it’s a lot of work that has to go in as we continue to have higher and higher expectations. We have to continue to grind. The hard work is all in front of us.”