Penn State asked Nebraska assistant Ron Brown to deliver a joint pregame prayer in State College.
Photo by Scott Bruhn/Nebraska Communications

Great Communicator Has Character, Credibility

By NU Athletic Communications

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By Randy York

Rex Burkhead enjoys listening to Ron Brown so much that Nebraska's All-Big Ten running back admits it would be entertaining just to listen to his first-year position coach read names out of a phone book - the ultimate compliment for the Huskers' longest tenured football coach who squeezed three major speaking appearances into his tight recruiting schedule in less than 24 hours. His first gig was as a featured speaker at Thursday's Huskers Athletic Fund Luncheon in Lincoln. His second was the keynote address at Friday morning's Big Red Breakfast in Omaha, followed by a 10-minute interview with KFAB, Omaha's flagship station on the Husker Sports Network.

Having heard or read every comment Brown made in those three appearances, I'm with Burkhead. If Brown does a public reading and warms the audience up with names from the phone book, I'm there, listening intently, hearing his pitch and his tempo as he gets ready to deliver whatever message he decides is most important. And here's the key for Brown, whether he's interviewing sports celebrities on his Christian radio program "Sharing the Victory" or providing incisive analysis for Husker fans everywhere: Brown is Nebraska's version of the Great Communicator because every ounce of his credibility is built on character, on and off the field.

To him, football is just a game. He told a breakfast crowd Friday how he came out of a tough background in New York City, where two people old enough to be his grandparents adopted him from an orphanage. "I remember sitting under my mother's ironing board on Saturday afternoons watching Big Ten games," he said. God has made me for it. He's given me the interest, when you have something you love, you have energy for it. The game inspires people. It never gets old. I never define a season by wins and losses. I just talked to Turner Gill the other day. Coaching is a tough business. He has been defined by wins and losses, but that's not how he defines himself. He felt like mission accomplished at KU...the place was in a shambles...those players had been hurting. No better guy in America to come in and put his healing arms around those kids than Turner. You could see there were some great things happening."

Interestingly, Brown became a healer himself this fall when Penn State asked him to lead a pregame prayer at the peak of what most describe as the biggest scandal in college athletics history. "God chose us to go and play Penn State," Brown said. "Joe Paterno left Brown in 1949 and had been at Penn State ever since. There were so many changes in the world since 1950, but not at Penn State. We had to prepare our heart and souls to walk into that environment. I was proud of our players, the way they performed, knowing the whole world was watching. It was a great game that went down to the wire...hats off to Penn State...they played their hearts out." Burkhead believes that Brown, another graduate of Brown, was the right man in the right place at the right time to help Penn State begin the healing process. He also believes if Nebraska's cross-division rival hires a head coach that has Brown's character, charisma and credibility, the healing process will accelerate and eventually succeed. Coach Brown's impact goes well beyond wins and losses, and right now, that seems like a place everyone should aspire to be.

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