Friendship Christian has reached into its past to take Lady Commander basketball into the future.
Greg Brown, who coached the Lady Commanders to their first state tournament, in 2002, was announced as the new head coach Monday afternoon. He replaces Jeremy Hawks, who stepped down last month after four seasons on the job.
Brown, 49, was previously at the school for six years (1996-2002), serving as assistant boys’ coach and middle school coach the first two years and girls’ head coach the final four, culminating with the Lady Commanders’ best-ever season of 31-3 and the state tourney. He also coached the middle school boys to an undefeated season and the James C. Haile championship in 1998 before leading the high school girls to three straight District 8-A championships and substates and a Region 4-A title (still the program’s only region crown), going 89-38 with the girls and winning two district coach of the year awards. He also served stints as an assistant coach on the football and girls’ softball teams.
He left FCS to serve as an assistant to the legendary Pat Summitt at the University of Tennessee for two seasons — first as a graduate assistant before becoming a full assistant the second season.
He returned to high school coaching with a two-year stint at Goodpasture before going back to college coaching as an assistant at Central Florida. He became the fourth women’s head coach at Lipscomb University, his alma mater, in 2012 and went 44-164 in seven seasons.
“Coach (athletic director John) McNeal called a few weeks back,” Brown said. “At the time I wasn’t sure.
“The more we thought about it and prayed about it, the more it seemed like the right move.”
“I’d heard he was doing some speaking and doing some stuff with Lipscomb (Academy’s) boys,” McNeal said. “I just thought he was worth considering. He was the only one I talked to.
“There have been a lot of things happening, with the tornado and the virus and spring break. There have been a lot of roadblocks. We continued to pursue Greg and he expressed interest. We’re happy he chose to come back to us. He has ties to our school and community. We couldn’t have gotten, not only a better coach, but a better person to lead our girls.”
Brown, a Shepherdsville, Ky., native, is married to Lebanon-native Teresa Naylor, who starred for the Lady Commanders in the late ‘80s before matriculating at Lipscomb, where she met her husband, who was serving as a student-assistant on the men’s team under the legendary Don Meyer. He spent last winter helping the boys’ team at Lipscomb Academy, where the Brown’s two sons, Cole and Carter, are students.
“I enjoyed helping the boys last year,” said the one-time law student. “I’m still doing some speaking, leadership consulting with businesses, and I’ll continue doing those as well.”
Like in 1998 when Brown took over a team which won four games the previous season, he inherits a 6-21 program this time around. He indicated this is not 18 years ago when he left FCS with the program at the top (the Lady Commanders returned to state in ’03 under Jonathan Hemingway).
“There’s some familiarity with the area and friends and family,” Brown said. “The kids who are graduating weren’t even born when I was there and the players I coached then have kids of their own now. You can’t poke your foot in the same river twice.
“We’re just approaching this like it’s a completely new job.”
Brown returns to FCS at a strange time when it’s not known when he’ll meet his new players in person. Like Friendship’s classes, which resume today online, he plans to use 21st-century technology to connect with the players and parents.
“I’m going to send something out to them,” he said. “If we can’t meet them in person for awhile, we’ll do something like Zoom, at least get in front of them and plan something that way.”
In the meantime, McNeal, Friendship’s baseball coach whose season is on hiatus due to the virus, is still working on finding a boys’ basketball coach.
“We’re still in the process of that,” he said. “This one just happened to get done quicker.”