By Jeff Shearer
AUBURN, Ala. - Greg Brown felt the call to coaching at an early age, watching his dad work with outside linebackers at Colorado.
"I can remember when I was kid going up and watching spring ball. I think I was in grade school," said Brown, Auburn's secondary coach. "I'd watch and I just was enamored with it. That I'm sure was the catalyst to get me going in that direction."
Brown's father, Irv, also officiated college basketball games, including six Final Fours. Once a year, young Greg would accompany his dad to a game.
"I learned from him how to treat people," Brown said.
Those lessons have served Brown well. His first season at Auburn will be his 37th in coaching.
"The day-to-day relationship with your players, your fellow coaches, the fans, everybody involved," he said. "It almost feels like I've cheated life. Hey, I get paid to do what I would want to do for fun and for a hobby anyway. I get to still participate in the game and have fun. All of us coaches are blessed beyond belief to be fortunate enough to stay around this game. I've been blessed to be able to last in this game and get extreme amount of enjoyment with every day I go to work.
"Every day I wake up, I always say to myself, `I can't believe how lucky I am to actually get to go do this for a job,'" Brown said. "I could only imagine what it would be like going to work, to a job that you weren't crazy about, that you disliked. That would be extremely hard. This is the total opposite. `Wow, how lucky can I actually be?'"
Brown coached 15 seasons in the NFL. He says both college and pro football "are fantastic," but in college, it's easier to build relationships with players because most don't have their own families, yet.
"I've always greatly enjoyed that," said Brown, who shared a story about taking a job at a school and receiving a home visit from a player Brown had tried to recruit to his previous school.
"I'd only been there a couple days and all of a sudden I turned around and he rode up on a bicycle," Brown said. "And I lived quite some distance away from the campus. I said, `What are you doing here?' He said, `I found out where you lived. I wanted to ride over and just hang out.'"
Many of Brown's former players have followed him into coaching.
"What's really gratifying and satisfying to a coach is when you see some of your former players go on to do that for a living," he said. "That's always fun. There's been a fair number of those guys spread throughout the college ranks and the NFL, who are secondary coaches, who I've had the privilege of coaching."
Three of Brown's former players, Deion Figures and Chris Hudson at Colorado, and Gerod Holliman at Louisville, won the Jim Thorpe Award as the nation's best defensive back. He takes no credit for their success.
"All of them were self-driven, self-motivated," Brown said. "They were good players. They were athletic and they were going to be successful no matter who was coaching them."
"It's a premier school in a premier conference," Brown said. "You've got a chance to achieve any goal that you want as a coach. The opportunity to come work alongside Coach Malzahn was just huge. It's such a blessing to be able to come work here, and I'm grateful for the opportunity.
"I'm just a small cog in a machine in what Coach Steele and Coach Malzahn want to do. You look at the success that Kevin has had and the programs he's had. It's literally unparalleled. I cannot name one other defensive coordinator who's done what he's done at such a high level at so many outstanding institutions.
"Just really excited to be a part of what Kevin has accomplished, in particular what he's accomplished this past year with Auburn, the stamp that he's put on it. I want to do my part. This is Auburn's defense. We want to participate and try to make it something special."
A coach who built his career on building relationships joins a school known for family.
"That's always the goal," Brown said. "Because we're all in this together. Players and coaches. There's no one who has ownership of it.
"We are all committed to doing the thing together. We're all in the foxhole. The stronger bonds that we can build, and be on the same page with it, the better chance we're going to have for success."
Jeff Shearer is a Senior Writer at AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: Follow @jeff_shearer