In 2010, the Lansing State Journal named him “Coach of the Decade” for girls’ cross country. He began in 1983 with a group of only eleven high school athletes and brought the number to more than four times that in the peak of the program’s success in 2014. His dedication and success were officially recognized in the school’s Hall of Fame in 2015.
After 35 years of coaching girls’ cross country and 38 years of coaching track at East Lansing High School, Bob Brown is coaching his final season this fall. Through the injuries, medals, victories and losses, it’s been year after year of running as an athlete and then as a coach.
Brown’s running began early on, when he was an elementary student. “I would run home and have lunch, and then run back to school,” Brown said in an interview for ELi. “My middle school didn’t have a cross country team, but me and a few guys would run together and go to invitationals, so by the time I got to high school, running just came naturally.”
Yet running wasn’t Brown’s only athletic involvement during his time in high school. “I played basketball all four years and in my freshmen year of college, but I had some foot issues and went out for track.” Without basketball, Brown’s running became a year-round focus.
Brown continued his cross country career through all four years of college. “I ran at Wooster, which was good for me because I’ve always been more of a shy and quiet guy and running cross country allowed me to enter my freshmen year knowing twenty upperclassmen guys,” Brown said.
Brown began his coaching career as an assistant coach in 1982 and became head coach the following year. East Lansing High School didn’t have a girls’ team until 1975, only seven years before Brown took over as head of the program.
“One of my proudest achievements has been seeing the program grow so much,” Brown remarked in our interview. “With parents’ help, the middle school starting a program, and coach [Patrick] Murray coming on board allowed us to get 50 girls and about 40 boys at our maximum.”
Under Brown, East Lansing’s girls’ cross country team went to the state meet eleven years in a row. Over the years, Brown has taken note of what determines a successful season: teamwork.
“What I like about cross country is that it can be individual and team-wise; in the years we ran our best, we had a core group of kids that wanted to do well and ran together. Having teammates to support you and push you makes a difference.”
One of Brown’s favorite memories as coach was a regional race in 1985 that took place on a golf course in Howell. “Howell and Brighton were ranked ahead of us,” he recalls, “but we managed to win by a few points. I didn’t tell the girls and as third place was announced as Brighton, and second place went to Howell, the team went bananas when it was announced that we were in first.”
Jeff Lyon, East Lansing’s junior varsity (JV) boys’ soccer and girls’ varsity soccer coach has worked with Brown for twenty years, and remarked to ELi on his ability to be flexible and understanding with two-sport athletes.
“What I’ve always appreciated about Coach Brown is when there are so many sports in the spring and we’ve had times when we have to share athletes, he’s been very respectful to the boys’ and girls’ soccer programs. We’ve always worked well together, and that doesn’t happen in every school district.”
As the girls’ new head coach in the years to come, cross country coach Tim Akers has been amazed with Brown’s investment and dedication. “He keeps track of their diets, he keeps track of their mileage, and when I come into the school at 6:30 every morning, he already has notes on the desk for the girls,” Akers said.
Akers added, “He pushes them hard but he pulls back when he needs to. Sometimes the kids misunderstand why he gets so frustrated. It’s not that he’s disappointed, he just wants them to see their potential.”
Akers has learned a lot about Brown’s coaching philosophies and techniques, and has decided to continue most of Brown’s strategies as well as bringing in a few of his own. “I’m looking forward to trying to keep the team up to the level that he has established, and that won’t be an easy thing to do.”
Tom Hunt, East Lansing High School’s Athletic Director, has known Brown for twenty years and witnessed the program's growth and success through the seasons. “His dedication to the program and to the kids is unmatched,” Hunt said. “It will be an adjustment without him as a school and an athletic department, but he’s laid the foundation so we can move forward and we’ll do our best so we can do just that.”
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