Silliman on Sports: Watson Brown Bests Amos A Stagg

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“You know that Hall of Fame coach, Alonzo Stagg?” Lyle bursts in. “Well, Ol’ Watson Brown, Mack’s brother, done beat him.”

“He did?” I ask. Sure, I remember Watson. When he was offensive coordinator for Gary Gibbs at OU, we used to play racquetball at Huston Huffman.

“I remember you saying that, so you’ll be proud to know your guy’s team, Tennessee Tech, lost to Northern Iowa 50-7 letting Watson set a NCAA record for losing games,” says Lyle. “He lost 200 flippin’ games, beating Amos Alonzo Stagg’s old record of 199. Stagg must not have been much of a coach to let Watson Brown beat him.”

Are you kidding, Lyle? You’re talking about Amos Alonzo Stagg – the Staggster – one of the greatest coaches ever. There would be no modern football if it weren’t for all of Alonzo’s innovations at Chicago University.

“Chicago University?” chirps Lyle. “They haven’t played football in what… forever?”

True, but Chicago had two national championships, the first Heisman winner, and Stagg introduced wrinkle after wrinkle. The old man invented the linebacker position, the quick kick, the backfield shift, the Statue of Liberty play, the end-around, the lateral, hip pads and the tackling dummy. I ask Lyle if he knew what they used to use before they invented the tackling dummy?

“Actual dummies?” says Lyle, making a lucky guess.

Wow, how did you know, I say to Lyle. And did you know Stagg was the first one to call the forward pass ‘The Long Bomb?’ You know why that’s funny?

“Ummm, guess not.”

I tell Lyle it’s funny because after they shut down football in Chicago they used the old football stadium to create The Manhattan Project. See, a bomb. You could say… a really long bomb.”

“Well,” says Lyle, “you might be surprised to know Watson ran up his 200 losses in 29 years plus half a season. It took that Stagg fellow 56 years.”

“Did you ever hear of the Stagg Bowl?” I ask Lyle. Maybe there will be a bowl named after Watson Brown – the Underdog Bowl. Watson was a four year starting SEC quarterback at Vanderbilt and during one of his years, Vandy upset Alabama. Watson had a penchant for leading an underdog and it might have influenced the schools he chose to coach – Austin Peay, Cincinnati, Rice, Vanderbilt, University of Alabama at Birmingham and Tennessee Tech. Once, his UAB team upset defending national champion, Penn State. If you’re a good guy and you want to lead men in overcoming adversity, you will coach at schools that aren’t frontrunners.

“Sounds like a loser to me.”

Whoa, Lyle, don’t be so quick to judge. The Browns, Watson and Mack, won more games combined, 365, than any other coaching brother combo in college history, more than the Dooley brothers. Watson never played patsies and he scheduled the type of teams that tested your manhood. He was a rebuilder, never shirked a challenge, never ducked an opponent. His players graduated, stayed out of trouble, some will say he did it right. Many, many times his teams had the highest GPA in college football. Watson is in the Tennessee Football Hall-of-Fame and won a Coach of the Year award. Maybe it’s time to mention Watson Brown in the same breath as Amos Alonzo Stagg.

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