JERRY BROWN’S TIME off from coaching made him so miserable, his wife ordered him to go back to it. In Brown’s second season at Batesburg-Leesville, the rewards of coaching have made him happier than ever.
“It’s a different coach Brown,” offensive line coach Eric Gambrell said. “He’s much more jovial, and he’s a lot happier. You can tell that year off gave him extra energy.”
Coaching the Panthers gave Brown a fresh start and an exciting challenge — turning a slumping team around. In two years, Brown has Batesburg-Leesville (9-2) in the state championship quarterfinals coming off a region-championship season. Batesburg-Leesville plays host to Central on Friday.
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The next challenge is avoiding complacency, Brown said. His time off from his destined profession has made him as passionate about coaching as he’s ever been.
“It’s really a fun time,” Brown said. “It’s really meaningful as a coach to see a team progress as much as any team could.”
Brown won three state titles at Berkeley before getting out of coaching to become the athletics director at Fairfield Central. Gambrell was an assistant under Brown at Berkeley, and when he heard the news of Brown’s move, he laughed it off.
“So you’re not going to coach football at all?” Gambrell asked Brown. “We’ll see how long that lasts.”
It lasted less than a year, and Gambrell got to return to his alma mater as an assistant coach.
The Panthers were 1-10 before Brown got there. In his first season, they improved to 5-6 and made the postseason. Batesburg-Leesville was undefeated in its region this year, and it hasn’t lost to a 2A team.
It took time for the team to fully grasp Brown’s change in philosophy. Brown said he saw everyone on board toward the end of last season, but by then, it was too late to build momentum for a long playoff run. It made him hopeful for this year.
“He’s very big on discipline, and that’s something our team has been needing for a while,” senior running back Rickie Smith said. “That’s a big key to our success this year.”
Smith said Brown is detail-oriented. Brown put an emphasis on film study and made play sheets for the team. He worked out the team in the weight room to ensure the players got stronger. He’d give tests on the film study and plays to make sure the information was sticking.
But Brown aims to make the most impact off the playing field. When he explains how he’s been called to coach high school players, he doesn’t describe his passion for the game, but said he wants to mold boys into men. Smith said Brown always tells the team that he wants to make them into good future husbands and fathers.
“He’s not here for the wins and losses,” Gambrell said. “That’s just a by-product of making sure what’s right and what’s wrong and living life the right way. He’s been a great mentor throughout my career.”
Making a 1-10 team into a playoff contender is no easy feat, but Brown’s previous stops at Berkeley and Spring Valley prepared him for his success at Batesburg-Leesville. Sustaining the success is the next step, and Brown intends to stick around to see how far he can take the Panthers.
“In your career, this is the most rewarding time there is — when you completely turn a program around in one season,” Brown said. “The next phase beyond this is avoiding the complacent phase, and that’s something that’s harder to do than turning them around. That’s what we’ll be into next year and maybe the year after.”