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Saturday Morning Quarterback
Dec 18, 2006 12:00 am
College football fans who've been in Middle Tennessee the past three decades remember Watson Brown as an offensive wizard.
In an era when most football coaches followed the Woody Hayes logic (three things happen when you throw the football, and two of them are bad), Brown threw caution, and the ball, to the wind.
While Vince Dooley was running the ball into the Georgia ground with the I formation, Alabama's Bear Bryant was copying Darrell Royal's wishbone offense from Texas. Still others were running the ground-hugging veer.
But even before Steve Spurrier began revolutionizing the college game with his Fun 'N Gun offense, Brown was having his quarterbacks sling the ball around at various stops as offensive coordinator and head coach, almost always with considerably less talent at his disposal than what the Ol' Ball Coach would have at Florida.
But Brown hasn't been in Middle Tennessee since Vanderbilt sent him packing following the 1990 season.
Lee Sweeney was 3 then. As he developed into a record-setting passer at Friendship Christian, Brown was building Alabama-Birmingham's from scratch through the I-AA level to a I-A bowl team. His Blazers came close to beating Tennessee last season.
"I didn't know much about him at all," Sweeney said earlier this week. "I know he led Vanderbilt (as a quarterback) against Alabama in '69, maybe, to a win over Alabama. I've heard he's a good coach, offensive-based. And I know his brother is the coach at Texas."
Brown's hiring by Tennessee Tech last week is a big public-relations shot in the arm for a program normally relagated to the back pages of the area sports agenda. It's sparked interest in no small part because the coach returns to Cookeville where he and brother Mack (the aforementioned Texas coach) grew up.
To my knowledge, Watson Brown has never lived in Lebanon but does have many ties to Wilson County. He married Brenda Arnold, the heroine of the Devilettes' 1971 state basketball champions. His cousin, Mel Brown, is the current principal at Mt. Juliet High School.
Now he'll inherit a quarterback from Wilson County who, in his first season in Cookeville, became his school's first-ever Ohio Valley Conference Freshman of the Year after setting several Tech season and game passing records.
It would appear to be a marriage made in football heaven.
"I'm excited about next year," Sweeney said. "I'm kind of excited about the offense. He likes to run the spread and the one-back in the shotgun.
"Anybody who knows anything about me knows that's what I like to run."
Sweeney and the team were on hand for Brown's introductory press conference. But the coach and quarterback haven't had time for a real face-to-face chat yet, though Brown did refer to an injury on Sweeney's passing hand.
"I haven't really gotten a chance to talk to him a lot," Sweeney said. "I broke my knuckle on my throwing hand. He made a comment in his press conference about his quarterback having a broken hand.
"I haven't gotten to talk to him much at all. I think he's back in Alabama getting ready to move."
Sweeney signed with Louisville out of Friendship and spent a redshirt season with the Cardinals before transferring to I-AA Tech last year. After a slow start, he finished the season with almost 2,300 passing yards, over 430 of which came against Southeast Missouri State.
"I could tell every game I was getting a little bit better," Sweeney said. "Hopefully next season, I'll start on the note I finished this season on."
Brown will also inherit a couple of former Lebanon High players who were also redshirt freshmen this fall. Peter Taylor is a backup center who saw a lot of playing time against Murray State, Sweeney said. Billy Bates saw a lot of snaps as a backup linebacker.
As for Louisville, Sweeney said he wasn't able to get tickets to see his former teammates take on Wake Forest in the Jan. 2 Orange Bowl.
"The only person I've talked to is Brian Brohm," Sweeney said, referring to the Cardinals' star passer. "I talked to him after the Rutgers game. He was disappointed about it and he didn't want to talk about it."
But there's a lot of talk about Cookeville's hometown hero coming home to put a spark in a program which has posted mostly mediocre records through the years.
Brown and Sweeney should give folks even more to talk about next fall.
Sports Editor Andy Reed can be reached at 444-3952 ext. 17 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.