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Lucky, and good
In three different stints at the University of Tennessee, Kippy Brown coached Peyton Manning, Anthony Miller, Tim McGee, Alvin Harper and Carl Pickens. In one season at Louisville, he mentored Mark Clayton.
All went on to not only play but star in the National Football League.
During his tenure with six NFL teams, Brown worked with Blair Thomas (Jets), Errict Rhett (Buccaneers), Karim Abdul-Jabbar (Dolphins), Ahman Green (Packers), Andre Johnson (Texans) and Kevin Smith (Lions).
But everything you need to know about Brown – the Seahawks’ first-year wide receivers coach – comes when asked about this galaxy of stars he has molded and mentored.
“I’ve been lucky to have been around some really fine football players,” Brown said. “But you always remember the underdogs. I coached a kid at Tennessee that walked on there. This guy was out of Karns High School (in Knoxville) and his mother brought him to me.
“I never will forget it. She sat in my office with her son and said, ‘He’s going to do everything you tell him to do. You have any problem, you call me.’ Well, she had cancer, and she died a little over a year later. He was an undersized kid and he worked and he worked and he worked, and did everything I told him to do.” Read
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“I knew Carl Pickens was going to play (in the NFL). I knew Tim McGee was going to play. I knew Anthony Miller was going to play. I knew all those guys were going to play pro football,” Brown said. “But nobody could have imagined J.J. McCleskey playing professional football.
“That makes my day.”
Everything you need to know about Brown’s ability to coach comes from one of those former players.
“I learned more at UT than I learned in the pros, and a lot of that is because of Kippy and the invaluable experience he brings,” Harper once said.
Harper, as well as all those other players, can thank the experiences that shaped Brown’s life.
Let’s start with how he got his name. Not his given name, which is Charles. But how Charles came to be known to just about everyone who knows him as Kippy. The genesis can be traced to his grandfather, who owned the first television set – as well as a restaurant – in the all-Black community of Sweetwater, Tenn.
“People used to come from all around to look at TV at our place,” Brown said. “There was one show where a grandfather sat on the porch and told stories to his grandson, and the grandson’s name was Skippy.
“So he called me Skippy until he died. But my mother said it sounded too much like a dog’s name, so she took the ‘S’ off.”
Does Brown ever use his given name? “Passport, driver’s license, that kind of thing,” he said. “But that’s it.”
At Sweetwater High School, Brown was a running back – until the coach, King Berrong, moved him to quarterback. The QB he replaced? Berrong’s son, Steve, who took Brown’s spot at tailback.
“This guy moved his own son and put me at quarterback,” Brown said, who still shakes his head as he recounts the unprecedented move after all these years. “You just don’t do that back then.
“When I came home and told my folks, ‘They’re going to play me at quarterback,’ they said, ‘Oh no they aren’t.’ But the coach won out.”
Because the coach knew what he was doing. Brown quarterbacked Sweetwater to three consecutive state championship games, and they won the title in 1971 and 1972. Both the QB and the QB he replaced went on to play at Memphis State University (now the University of Memphis).
“King was like a father to me,” Brown said of Berrong, who achieved legendary status in East Tennessee. “What he said was gospel.”
Going to college also proved to be a revelation for Brown, whose high school graduation class totaled 98.
“When I went to college, it opened up a whole new world to me,” he said. “For me to get out and get a college degree – and I married a girl who was in private school and she got a degree; and both our kids have degrees – that makes a difference.
“Had I not gone to college and just graduated from high school and gone to work at the local plant, my life definitely would have been different. So when I got into college and was exposed to what could be, it opened up a whole new world.”
And it has taken him all over the football world. He has coached college ball at Memphis State, Louisville and Tennessee (three times). In the NFL, he had those stints with the New York Jets, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Miami Dolphins, Green Bay Packers, Houston Texans and Detroit Lions. He has coached running backs as well as wide receivers, and been an offensive coordinator and assistant head coach. He even spent a season as the head coach of the Memphis Maniax in the XFL.
If there’s anything more impressive than the list of players Brown has coached, it’s the list of coaches he has worked for and with – from Richard Williamson, to Johnny Majors, to Sam Wyche, to Bruce Coslett, to Jimmy Johnson, to Tony Dungy, to Phillip Fulmer.
“I’ve been very lucky, in that I’ve been with some really good head coaches,” Brown said. “Those are old-school, rock-’em-sock-’em type football coaches. So I’ve been lucky. I learned a lot from all of them.”
All of this has allowed Brown, 55, and his family – wife Deon; son Jerome, 35; and daughter Jennifer, 29 – to live a football version of “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Read
“Every kid hopes that he’s good enough to play (in the NFL). I wasn’t,” Brown said. “But I was smart enough to play. I just wasn’t good enough to play. So, those who can do, and those who can’t coach.
“You love the sport. You love being involved. So this has been a good career. It’s been terrific. I’ve been very lucky.”
Not to mention good at coaching, if not playing, in the NFL. Read