Tennessee Tech coach Brown’s career got boost from Pat Dye
By Ross Dellenger
AUBURN — Upon hiring Watson Brown as his quarterbacks coach at East Carolina, Pat Dye made sure to ask the 23-year-old if his wife had a job.
“I had to split a $9,000 salary with him and another coach, so I guess he made $4,500,” Dye said from his home in Auburn. “I asked him when I offered him the job if his wife worked, and he said, ‘Yeah.’ He didn’t make any money, but he got his career started.”
More than 30 years later, Brown brings his Tennessee Tech team into Auburn’s Jordan-Hare Stadium on Saturday to play on a field named after his former mentor and boss and in a state where he had his most success.
In 1995, Brown was hired by UAB to lead a fledgling program as it prepared to move from Division I-AA to Division I-A. He won 62 games in 12 years, leading the team to its first bowl appearance in 2004.
But following a disappointing 3-9 season last year, Brown resigned as the coach.
He returned last winter to his hometown of Cookeville, Tenn., where he is in his first year of attempting to build Tennessee Tech into a powerhouse among teams from the Football Championship Subdivision — formerly Division 1-AA.
Brown hasn’t forgotten Dye’s teachings during those two years at East Carolina.
“I still teach his philosophies and discipline and toughness,” said Brown, whose Golden Eagles are 4-5 on the season as they head into this weekend’s match with No. 19 Auburn.
“I think I probably got more from Coach Dye than anybody.”
But first, he had to get hired by Dye, who, before leading Auburn for 12 years, coached East Carolina for six successful seasons in the early to mid-1970s. To do that, Brown turned to an old friend: Alabama coach Bear Bryant.
“He’s the one who got Coach Dye to hire me,” said Brown, the older brother of Texas coach Mack Brown. “The Alabama connection and the Auburn connection touched me in many ways.”
A talented quarterback out of high school, Brown was heavily recruited by Bryant and committed to Alabama. But he eventually changed his mind and elected to stay in state, choosing Vanderbilt.
In 1969, Brown and the Commodores upset Bryant and Alabama. It was the last time Vandy beat the Crimson Tide in Nashville. Dye was an Alabama assistant at the time. It’s the first thing he mentions when questioned about Brown.
“I remember coaching against him when he was playing at Vanderbilt,” Dye said. “He was a great quarterback. He could do it all.”
Looking for employment just a couple years removed from his playing days, Brown sought help from Bryant, who sent him to Dye at East Carolina. During his two years at the school, Brown helped Dye’s Pirates go 15-8.
“There was a mental and physical toughness to (Dye’s) teams that I always thought he taught,” the 57-year-old Brown said. “That was the difference. His teams were always prepared in a toughness way. We just never backed down to anybody in the two years I was there.”
Following his stint at East Carolina, Brown bounced around college football, serving as head coach at Austin Peay, Cincinnati, Rice and Vanderbilt.
Known as one of the keenest offensive minds in the game, Brown was offensive coordinator at Oklahoma and Mississippi State during the early 1990s before landing in Birmingham in 1995.
But nothing will replace those days with the legendary Auburn coach. One memory especially stands out to him.
In his first full-time coaching gig, Brown, at one point, thought he was about to lose his job. His starting quarterback at East Carolina wasn’t meeting the expectations of Dye.
Brown — “coaching guys about my age,” he said — took the brunt of the criticism from Dye.
“The quarterback was just not doing something very well,” Brown said. “He kept telling me to get it better, and it just didn’t get any better.”
Dye had a solution.
One day during spring practice or two-a-days — Brown can’t quite remember — he divided up all of the quarterbacks. Each performed the same drill side by side at the same time.
Brown was given one quarterback to coach during the drill. Other assistants took the remaining quarterbacks. Brown’s raw coaching was on center stage.
“That gets your attention quick,” Brown said, now laughing about the affair.
“He was going to get it right, and he was going to figure out a way to get it right.”
Asked about the incident, the 67-year-old Dye couldn’t recall that day, but he did say, in his deep Southern accent, “It could have very well happened.”
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