Thomas Brown made a significant impact at running back in the 2005 Outback Bowl in Tampa, Fla.
He capped off an impressive freshman year at Georgia with an efficient performance, rushing for 111 yards on 16 carries, leading the Bulldogs to a 24-21 win over the University of Wisconsin.
Asked for memories of that game, Brown, UW’s new running backs coach, said, “Just how tough (the Badgers) were. It was very physical up front, guys who played fundamentally strong. They would strike you.”
But none of that involved Brown’s strongest memory, which is from the first quarter. UW cornerback Scott Starks forced Brown to fumble, leading to a field goal that tied the score at 3.
“They forced my first fumble in my college career,” Brown said. “I made it the whole year and hadn’t fumbled.”
It was evident from the pained expression on his face that it still bothered him, nine years later.
“No question,” he said. “I fumbled three times in four years and I still remember to this day and regret (it), wish I could go back in time and make amends for those. That was something I took pride in as a player.”
That competitive nature still comes out, especially in recruiting. Brown, 27, has only two years of experience as a running backs coach, having spent 2013 at Marshall and 2012 at Chattanooga, a Football Championship Subdivision school. But he quickly built a reputation as a promising recruiter and will cover some familiar territory in his home state. He grew up just outside of Atlanta in Tucker, Ga.
Brown was asked if he would be able to recruit the top players in that talent-rich state in the heart of Southeastern Conference territory.
“I’m going after them right now,” he said. “We’ll see what happens. I’m not holding back any punches. I’m not backing down from anybody.”
He’s taking an approach that’s just as confident when it comes to his coaching inexperience.
Brown regards the UW running backs job as one of the best in the country. He replaces Thomas Hammock, who left in February to become the running backs coach for the Baltimore Ravens. John Settle was the coach previously and he, too, went to the NFL.
“There’s no better place in America ... for a running backs coach,” Brown said. “To have an opportunity to come here, with this great tradition, and every available resource you need to be successful, both academically and athletically, and to be able to run behind some of the best offensive linemen in the country — some big boys you can hide behind and get some movement — I was really excited about it.”
A few eyebrows were certainly raised when he was hired, given his coaching resume could be printed on a 3-by-5 card. But he brings a youthful exuberance to the job, as well as instant credibility from his college career. He is the sixth-leading rusher in Bulldogs history.
“I think there’s something to be said for a guy that can actually say, ‘I did that and I’m not just telling you what I’ve heard or I’ve seen from somebody else. I’ve experienced it. I’ve been where you want to go. I’m going to do everything I can to help you get there,’ ” Brown said. “I think initially it adds some type of credibility, the fact I’ve actually played the position at a high level.”
The 5-foot-8, 200-pound Brown was something of a workout warrior in the weight room, regarded as pound-for-pound one of the strongest players on the team.
He rushed for 2,646 yards at Georgia, despite dealing with injuries, which included a torn ACL and fractured collarbone.
He also split time throughout his career, first with Danny Ware, then later with Kregg Lumpkin and Knowshon Moreno.
Brown thought he had his career mapped out: He would play in the NFL — as Ware, Lumpkin and Moreno all have — for eight or so years, then go into broadcasting. But his body failed him after being a sixth-round pick of the Atlanta Falcons in the 2008 NFL draft.
During a preseason game, he tore his groin after being pulled down by a horse-collar tackle. He spent the year on injured reserve and was released prior to the 2009 season at the age of 24.
His former coach at Georgia, Mark Richt, gave him a job in the weight room. But Brown wanted to coach, which led him to Chattanooga.
“This is my third year going into coaching,” he said. “It kind of moved fast for me. ... I was blessed with the opportunity to get into it at a young age and get some great experiences at the schools and I’m thankful for those. Yeah, I’m definitely thanking God for this opportunity.”
Brown’s experience sharing carries in the backfield should pay off at UW with junior Melvin Gordon and sophomore Corey Clement. In his first day on the job, Brown watched all of the carries those two backs had last season.
“Melvin is a big, explosive guy that can do a lot of things in space, but can also be physical between the tackles, run between guys and has enough speed at the second level to take it the distance,” Brown said.
“Corey, that cat goes hard with everything he does. I love his mentality. He’s a physical, low center-of-gravity, compact guy, well built. He also has the ability to win one-on-one in space. We’re blessed with two talented guys here and got some more guys coming and we’ve got some great fullbacks here.”
Brown has some big shoes to fill, but given how quickly his career has unfolded, he’s got no time to worry about that. Hammock and Brown used to cross paths on occasion in recruiting.
“Thomas did a fantastic job, from everything I hear,” Brown said. “I had an opportunity to run into him a couple times through recruiting in Atlanta, seemed like a great guy. I’m not focusing on that, just focusing on my deal and making sure I’m ready to roll.”