Through two decades of triumphs and tribulations, Northwestern has had Jerry Brown. Known as the dean of the NU coaching staff, Brown has guided countless Wildcats during his career.
“The mentorship and the job he has done for 20 years here and 118 wins speaks for itself,” head coach Pat Fitzgerald said of Brown.
The even-keeled Brown carries a confident demeanor at work. He never gets too high or low.
As the coach of Northwestern’s defensive backs, Brown has needed plenty of patience. His unit is young, with a high ceiling. However, there have been growing pains along the way. Brown is quick to offer praise for production, while using mistakes as a learning opportunity.
“It’s part of my job to keep working with them and maintain confidence in them,” Brown said. “But more importantly, they’ve got to maintain faith and confidence in their abilities to get the job done.”
During a preseason practice in 2011, Brown saw potential in true freshman Nick VanHoose. From there, he began to push the young cornerback, testing him in adverse situations during practice. VanHoose responded well during his first season as a starter, earning FOX Sports Next Freshman All-American honors for his efforts.
“He has made a big emphasis on getting experiences,” VanHoose said of Brown’s tutoring. “That means out on the practice field. He makes a big emphasis about making plays that build confidence. Once you build up your confidence, you can take that to a game and feel much better about yourself.”
A stellar season for VanHoose was put on hold when he suffered a dislocated shoulder against Nebraska, sidelining him for three games. Forced to mix and match personnel, the secondary struggled.
That culminated when Daniel Jones failed to bat down Devin Gardner’s Hail Mary heave, stemming a Michigan comeback victory. It was trial by fire for the sophomore cornerback, who went from hero to goat before 112,510 fans.
Just three days later, Jones stood tall as he met with reporters. There was no loss of confidence, nor showing of sorrow. He was ready to bounce back.
“Especially in the secondary, bad things can happen,” said Brown. “You’ve got to be strong enough to put that out of your mind, grow through it, and play the next play. Our guys have done a really good job of doing that. It has allowed them to continue to get better.”
There’s no magical formula Brown teaches his group; he keeps the focus simple and consistent—trust what you’re taught.
“I always talk to our guys about their foundation, their training, and their technique,” he said. “They’ve got to master those things. The more they work at trying to master those things, the better off they’re going to be.”
The future is surely bright for Northwestern’s secondary. VanHoose and sophomore safety Ibraheim Campbell are locked into starting jobs, freshman Traveon Henry has emerged as a candidate to start, while a talented depth chart offers further reason for encouragement.
Brown will be there to guide the young unit with his calming, confident influence.
“You can set your watch on Jerry Brown,” Fitzgerald said. “He has been here 20 years. There’s no more stable and consistent guy in college football than Jerry.”