LINCOLN — Ron Brown was back in familiar territory. The longtime Husker assistant returned to the program as director of player development, coach Scott Frost announced Wednesday.
Brown coached three positions over 24 years at NU under coaches Tom Osborne, Frank Solich and Bo Pelini, wrote multiple books and gave numerous speeches in aid of Christian ministries drawing strong praise — and some strong criticism — for his off-the-field mission. After Pelini was fired in 2014, Brown followed him to Youngstown State and left after three months for Liberty University, where he served as associate head coach under former Husker player and assistant Turner Gill.
This spring, Brown visited Frost at football practice. Now, he’s back on staff.
“Coach Brown had a tremendous impact on me during my playing career at Nebraska, and I am sure he will have a similar impact on many young men in our football program in the years ahead,” Frost said in a statement. “Coach Brown understands Nebraska and what makes this a great place for student-athletes to grow and learn in all areas.”
In a 10-minute interview on Husker Sports Network, Brown said he had multiple conversations with Frost and Matt Davison — NU’s associate athletic director for football and a player under Brown — about returning to the program.
“I felt very honored that (Frost) would even think to want me to be a part of that,” Brown said, thanking Davison, Osborne, Athletic Director Bill Moos, NU President Hank Bounds and Nebraska’s staff. “I just come to serve. I love this place. Always have. Always had a passion in my heart for Nebraska. It’s really a dream come true to come back.”
Brown didn’t immediately respond to texts or calls from The World-Herald. A football spokesman said Brown didn’t want to give any other interviews until he settles into his new role. NU didn’t immediately release Brown’s salary.
Ex-players, including Will Compton and Davison, praised the hire on social media, as did current running backs coach Ryan Held, who played for Brown in the 1990s.
“What a great hire for our players and staff!” Held tweeted.
According to NU, Brown will be mentoring football players in “off-the-field” development matters, working with Nebraska’s Life Skills department and assisting staff and players with “community outreach.” Brown said Frost wanted to make sure the players had someone they could go to who wasn’t a coach.
“There’s a lot of things going on with a student-athlete in terms of in the community, his character, his relationships, how to deal with females, financial issues,” Brown said. “There’s just a tremendous amount of demands on these guys. I think wisdom is a skillset.”
Brown said he “loves” working with “young guys from all different backgrounds, all different demographics, all different everything.”
“Ron Brown is highly proven and widely regarded in collegiate athletics as a great mentor to student-athletes,” Chancellor Ronnie Green said in a text to The World-Herald late Wednesday. “This is an important hire for all Husker football athletes and I am confident it will provide a wonderful opportunity for all the members of our team to benefit from his mentorship.”
He coached Nebraska’s wide receivers and tight ends from 1987 through 2003, and coached tight ends and running backs from 2008 through 2014. Brown molded arguably the two best Husker running backs during the past 20 years in Rex Burkhead and Ameer Abdullah. His energetic style — he often liked to be involved in his own drills — was popular among players.
Throughout his coaching tenure at NU, he stayed active in evangelical Christian ministry work. During the four-year tenure of coach Bill Callahan, Brown was state director for the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.
He returned to Nebraska’s staff in 2008. In 2011, as part of Pelini’s staff, Brown led a widely praised prayer before the Nebraska-Penn State football game, which took place just after the Jerry Sandusky sex abuse scandal broke, PSU coach Joe Paterno was fired by the university and riots took place in State College.
“There are a lot of little boys out there, watching this game, trying to make sense out of life,” Brown said after the game of his prayer. “They are asking, ‘What is manhood?’ May we demonstrate to them what manhood is, to come out and play the game of football, with ferocity, with passion.
“I felt like God held his hand of healing over the stadium today. I know some people may not understand that, but I think there was a reverence in the crowd today. A respect for one another, for the players, for the game.”
Four months later — March 2012 — Brown drew ample criticism for his appearance at an Omaha City Council meeting. Brown opposed amendments to the city’s discrimination laws that revolved around LGBTQ rights to file complaints if they felt they’d been discriminated against because of their orientation.
Brown used Memorial Stadium — not his home residence — as his address and compared council members to Pontius Pilate. He was rebuked by then-UNL Chancellor Harvey Perlman.
“Several people have written me asking if his remarks represent the position of the university,” Perlman said in a statement at the time. “I want to be clear that they do not.”
When Mike Riley took over, some fans pushed for Riley to retain Brown as a connection to the Husker era of dominance. Riley didn’t have a spot for him.
“I appreciate what Coach Brown has done here,” Riley said in January 2015. “There’s no doubt Coach Brown has had a remarkable career, and is a very good person.”
Brown followed Pelini to Youngstown State. Within weeks on campus, Youngstown State’s student newspaper called on Brown, Pelini and School President Jim Tressel to get sensitivity training for Brown’s “Neolithic” views on homosexuality.
“I hadn’t even met anybody, really, at the university, ” Brown said in 2015. “They just kind of went on my reputation at Nebraska.”
He took a job at Liberty, a private Christian college founded by televangelist Jerry Falwell.
“I feel like I’ll have a national platform at Liberty at a time when people who believe like I do — in terms of Christianity — need to have voices,” Brown said then. At the time, he even said he had some closure on his time at Nebraska.
In three years at Liberty, Brown said, he asked himself “what kind of man am I?” He listened to lots of people. He leaned on Gill, whom he called a “special friend” for advice and guidance in certain areas.
Now, Brown has returned to Nebraska. He started work Wednesday, he said.
“I’m here working,” Brown said. “It’s good to be in town. My dear wife and family will join me. I’m excited for that. We’re all thrilled.”
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