Editor's note: Randy York is writing his N-Sider column as a daily Countdown to Big Red Saturday. Upcoming columns are Carl Pelini on Monday; baseball's home-grown talent on Tuesday; volleyball's "converted" Nebraskans on Wednesday; Taylor Martinez on Thursday; Bo Pelini on Friday; and John Papuchis on Saturday.
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If this is Sunday, it's time to visit the open classroom of Ron Brown, who's spent more years on Nebraska's football staff than any other current coach.
Given his senior status, which includes a stint on Tom Osborne's three national championship teams, Brown seems the right man to ask about Tim Beck's promotion to become Bo Pelini's offensive coordinator - a job that will move to center stage Saturday when some bread-and-butter components of Beck's new offense will be on public display in the annual Red-White Spring Game.
Even though the teams will be equally split in a player draft later this week and the coaches will hide and restrict the schemes on Saturday, expect Beck's new offense to flash at least a couple creative signs at the same time it reflects the foundation upon which the new offense is built.
"When you're around Tim Beck very long, what you learn about him is he has two great qualities that an offensive coordinator has to have," Brown said. "First, he's very organized, and second, he's very creative. And you need both to lead effectively."
Evangelical about his personal faith as well as his personal job backfilling Beck as Nebraska's new running backs coach, Brown has a strong belief that Beck is the right man at the right time at Nebraska. "Tim brings a great blend of structure and creativity," Brown said. "He loves people, and he loves players. And he knows how to get a lot out of them because he's also a great motivator."
Beck Grew Up with Stoops, Pelini and Their Brothers
No wonder Brown marvels at Beck's laundry list of qualities and qualifications to coordinate an offense at a BCS power. "No. 1, Tim's coached on the defensive side of the ball, so he knows how defense works," Brown said. "No. 2, he was a quarterback in college (Central Florida), so if you're going to be an offensive coordinator, that's a great position to have played."
If multiplicity is the linchpin both for the Nebraska offense and the Blackshirt defense, Beck can be an effective debater on either side of the ball, and, in fact, enjoys such creative sessions with the Pelini brothers. "Tim has coached a variety of positions at the high school and the college level," Brown pointed out, "and he's run a number of different offensive systems at both levels."
All of that background and experience reinforces the confidence that Beck's coaching staff has in its new offense, and it fuels the fire that seems to permeate among the offensive players who are still learning how to execute it.
According to Brown, such enthusiasm is built on the twin pillars of fundamentally sound organization and well-structured creativity.
"You don't always find those two traits in the same leader," Brown said. "You can be so organized that you lack the vision and the insight to see something beyond your organizational skills. Or you can be so creative but not have enough of the structure, the foundation or the strong principles that you absolutely have to have."
The Only Thing That Matters to Brown: Getting Physical
Uninvolved in the major staff reshuffling, Brown became "the right man at the right time" himself because Beck needed someone he could entrust to coach the running backs - someone who would take the torch and run just as fast, if not faster, than he did. Knowing that Brown's DNA has the word p-h-y-s-i-c-a-l spelled frontwards, backwards and sideways, Beck found the answer right down the hall.
"For me, physical football is just a way of life," Brown said. "It's how I've always known football and how I've always looked at football. I was brought up that way."
Ironically, like Beck, Brown also coached defense before he switched to coaching offense.
"Coming from a defensive background, you took to the physical part of the game," Brown said. "Obviously, in the option/power running system we ran here, we had some great play action passes that involved the wide receivers and tight ends."
Still, the focus was power running. "It was a blue-collar, lunch pail 'let's get after it' and 'let's be the toughest, most fierce, intense players on the field' style of play," Brown said. "Even if you're a wide receiver or a tight end, your physical presence is going to be felt out there. That's the way we coached."
Brown spells out that philosophy to describe why it doesn't matter what position he coaches. It only matters that whatever position he coaches better contribute mightily to the extraordinarily physical style of play.
"For me coaching the running backs," Brown said, "I don't care what kind of offense we're in. I don't care if we're running West Coast or East Coast or whatever kind of offense we're using. The only thing that matters is we're going to be physical. That's the nature of football and the running back position. It's a collision game so obviously, we're going to be delivering blows out there. It's part of who we are."
Brown Sees Joy Coaching at 'Running Back University'
Ron Brown is 54. He's coached at the college level for more than a quarter century. This spring, however, is the first time he has ever coached the running back position, and everyone from Beck to veteran backs Rex Burkhead and Tyler Legate are enjoying Brown's trademark motivational tactics that include post-practice group work and creative reminders that preach the principles of physical football.
Not surprisingly, Brown has embraced the challenge of coaching Nebraska's running backs with a characteristic that Husker players see in everything he does ... pure joy.
"Joy is one of the fruits that the Holy Spirit gives to our lives when we give our lives to Christ," Brown said. "Joy is an attitude of gladness in any situation. That's why, even in the middle of the toughest time of your life, you can still have joy. You may not be happy because happy is circumstance-based, but joy is an inner gladness and an inner peace that says: 'You know what? God has it all under control. This is part of His plan, and I'm excited about that because I know He has our best interests in his hands'. Therefore, my coaching the running backs at my age and for the first time is a joy because I know that it's part of God's sovereign plan.
"I didn't know about it. I didn't choose it. I didn't orchestrate it or set it up. But I am honored," Brown said. "This is Running Back University. There's been a long line of great running backs here. We haven't had very many running back coaches, but I believe they've all been guys who have been outstanding coaches. For me to become a part of their history, that truly is a great honor."
Brown points out that Nebraska had a system in place that enabled the Huskers to rank ninth nationally in rushing offense last season. "Even though we had our offensive woes, there were some outstanding things that did take place, and lot of them took place in the running game," he said. "So I have a huge responsibility, not only to learn a position but to coach and to motivate two very different positions - I-back and fullback."
This Looks Like the Year We Can Dot the 'I' Again
I-back, of course, is iconic to Nebraska and so revered in our history that fans can hardly wait to see its return. It's a position that has cranked so many Husker All-Americans off the assembly line that it's almost blasphemy to name names and risk leaving out certain fan favorites.
Brown is also glad to see the fullback return to Nebraska football's culture, giving the Huskers some true two-back flexibility that can and will be designed to confuse and keep opposing defenses guessing.
Who knows? In Saturday's 1 p.m. Red-White Spring Game, you might even see a fullback with the football in his hands and seeking daylight instead of looking for a linebacker to knock down.
Then again, you might not.
Beck, Brown & Co. will make those decisions.
"I have to get some young players ready at the I-back position, particularly in the fall when those young backs report to camp," Brown said. "And obviously, I need to coach those fullbacks up and get some details worked out there, too. I think it's a great position to coach. I think all of the positions I've coached in the past and all of the knowledge I've gained from coaching them have helped set me up for this role."
Beck may be equally organized and creative, but he's also smart.
Who better than Ron Brown to "dot the I" in a "new" offense that will carry so many critical elements from the tried, true and trusted standards of the past?
Someday, Ron Brown should write a book and call it the "Joy of Coaching".
I'd buy it. Would you?
Voices from Husker Nation
When our son was playing tight end at Nebraska in the early '90s, Coach Brown was his position coach. We were extremely impressed with him. We were even more impressed after hearing him preach at a men's breakfast at one of the churches in Omaha. His talk was so moving that there wasn't a dry eye in the house. What a great opportunity for our young players to have a man of his caliber in their lives. Ron Scribner, Colorado Springs, Colorado
After reading your article on Coach Ron Brown, I wanted to let him know what a joy it was a few years ago when my wife and I picked him up at Mid-Continent Airport in Wichita and took him to his speaking engagement for the Kansas Cornhuskers Club at the Hyatt Regency. The talk he gave that night was inspirational and one of the best I've ever heard. I'm very eager for the new season to begin and to see how these Ron Brown-coached running backs do. Dan Dillon, Park City, Kansas
Thanks for your report on Coach Brown and Coach Beck. I've been a Husker fan (native Nebraskan) for my whole life, spending many years overseas. I especially appreciated your including Coach Brown's "spiritual" side and beliefs, especially since they're my thoughts and beliefs as well. Always enjoy reading your articles. Thanks. Dan Rath, Orlando, Florida
That was a great read on Ron Brown. So glad that he's coaching the running backs, and it sure looks like Coach Beck is the right man for the job. I'm looking forward to this season with great anticipation. Fred Herrmann, Medford, Oregon
I don't know Ron Brown personally, but I know that every group of players he coaches puts everything they have on the line for the team. They're not only physical, but smart, and they know how to win. I may be wrong, but by the time Rex Burkhead leaves Nebraska, don't be surprised if he becomes one of those All-American I-backs straight off the assembly line. It's going to be fun to watch him show the Big Ten what blue-collar is all about. I'd also like to congratulate Coach Brown for accepting every challenge that comes his way, just like the players he coaches. It's a joy to watch all of them. Ri Edwards, Yuba City, California
Thanks for giving us the "N-side" on Ron Brown. Every time I read anything he has to say, I learn something interesting and important. He's the real deal, and everyone around him seems to know it. A selfless leader is worth his weight in gold. Paul Jacobsen, Omaha, Nebraska
Wouldn't it be great if everyone looked at football like Ron Brown looks at it? I always root for Nebraska, but he's one of the main reasons I root so hard. Win or lose, he's a winner. Marsha Taylor, Kansas City, Missouri