ATHENS – It was only three years ago that Thomas Brown left the Georgia football program, and yet it felt longer: He moved four times, each time making a move up the coaching ladder, and spent last year guiding the Heisman Trophy runner-up.
“But I always kept that ‘G’ under whatever logo I had on,” Brown said.
He was wearing the logo again as he said that Monday. But this time he didn’t have to hide it.
Brown is back at Georgia as its running backs coach, hired a week ago to lead the strongest unit on the team.
“Those guys are a whole lot better than I was,” said Brown, who amassed 2,646 rushing yards at Georgia from 2004-07.
Brown met the media for the first time since his hire, which came after receivers coach Tony Ball left for LSU, and was replaced by Bryan McClendon, who had been Georgia’s running backs coach. McClendon and Brown were teammates at Georgia, separated by just two years, and had remained close. Brown had also stayed in touch with head coach Mark Richt, speaking to him once or twice a year.
This time Richt called and asked if he’d have interest in leaving Wisconsin for Georgia.
“I said, Coach you don’t have to ask if I have any interest. You know I’m interested,” Brown said.
Still, Brown said the decision to leave Wisconsin for Georgia was “probably not as easy as people assume,” and he had turned down a couple other jobs this offseason. He said he was “kind of adamant” about staying in one place for more than one year: Since ending his NFL career, he had one-year stints at Georgia (on the strength and conditioning staff), then as running backs coach at Chattanooga, Marshall and Wisconsin. And that doesn’t include a brief stop at Georgia State.
But when the Georgia job came open, Brown threw stability out the window again.
“I didn’t really reach out (to Richt) too much, but I was definitely keeping my phone close to me,” Brown said.
As far as his new players, Brown doesn’t exactly come in unaware: He knows Keith Marshall, who enrolled for the 2012 spring semester, so the two had some overlap. Brown also knows fullback Quayvon Hicks a bit through recruiting.
Since then Georgia has hauled in Chubb and Sony Michel, a pair of five-star recruits, as well as Brendan Douglas.
“Obviously with the ball in their hands those guys are extremely special players,” Brown said. “But I’m all about developing the all-around player. Make sure those guys, if they have the opportunity, can be three-down tailbacks.”
For as good as Georgia’s tailbacks can be, Brown will be hard to impress: He spent last year coaching All-American Melvin Gordon.
That was a unique learning experience for Brown, and not just as far as on-field coaching. When Wisconsin lost to LSU to open last season, Gordon told Brown he was hearing a lot of negativity from fans. Then as the season went on and Gordon exploded into a Heisman contender, he heard enough that his head could have swelled up.
“I think he did a great job of just keeping his head down and staying motivated, benefitting from the negative things people said about him in order to be better,” Brown said.
One of the most difficult things about moving around the past few years, Brown said, was never having much familiarity. There were new players, new coaches, new offensive systems. But ultimately that made him better.
“It kind of forced me outside of my comfort zone,” said Brown, who grew up in Tucker. “I grew up a huge introvert, so I could go sit in the corner somewhere and not talk to people for days and be okay. Obviously being a football coach I can’t do that. I have to be more vocal and speak up. I think having those opportunities definitely forced me to grow and mature, and helped me to adapt to different situations.”
And now he returns to Georgia a different person and coach, but the original career plan on track.
“I’ve moved a bunch over the last few years,” Brown said, in an understatement. “Once I left this place I wanted to put myself in a position where if the job did become available I had kind of built my resume and showed what I could do at other places outside of here. It would make it easier to bring me back.”