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On the Wings of Eagles’ D

Ex-Hartford, Dartmouth Assistant Brown Mans Boston College’s Defense

Chestnut Hill, Mass. — When Boston College takes the field tonight on national television, there will be a familiar face on the Eagles’ sidelines.

Don Brown, who spent five years teaching at Hartford High School back in the 1970s and coaching on Bob Potter’s Hurricane staff before he developed a long college resume that began at Dartmouth College, is now the defensive coordinator at BC.

When it comes to football, Brown is a driven man. When it comes to coaching, Brown is devoted to his defensive roots, this season hoping to make a difference on a team which is coming off a 2-10 record.

“Defense will always be my passion,” the 58-year-old Brown said. “This challenge really kind of hit the spot. I’m excited about it. This is a great place with a tremendous academic reputation and a tremendous athletic reputation. The challenge now is to get BC back on the map.”

First-year head coach Steve Addazio likes what he has seen from his defensive coordinator.

“He has tremendous character and is a great family man … a perfect fit here at Boston College,” Addazio said. “He believes you play the game on the balls of your feet, not your heels. We’re going to be aggressive. We’re going to play like our hair is on fire.”

But even from his rarefied position in the Atlantic Coast Conference, Brown never forget his roots in the old Connecticut Valley League.

After graduating from Norwich University, Brown’s first coaching stop was at Hartford, where the school was looking for a physical education teacher to replace Greg McKenna. The job gave Brown the opportunity to work with principal Frank Kenison and a stable of legendary, successful veteran coaches such as Stretch Gilliam, Potter and Butch Lovering.

“That whole crew helped get me ready for what was ahead,” said Brown. “They taught me plenty.”

Those friendships are as strong today as they were when Brown was on the Hartford sidelines.

“It’s not unusual to get a text or a call from Mike (Stone) or Bob (Potter) or they get one from me,” Brown said. “What’s great is the minute I am with one of the Hartford guys, it’s like I have been with them forever.”

Brown is happy the way things have turned out for him, but he can dream of what might have been.

“Sometimes I am envious of Stoney and the things he has been able to do,” Brown said. “To be able to get in the Hartford school system, back to where he grew up and see the impact he has made.

“He has been in one place all that time, and that’s pretty special. He has an uncanny ability to simplify things. He uses complex systems, but he has a way of making it simple for both his players and coaches and complex for the other guys. The five years of high school coaching I had (at Hartford) was the best thing that ever happened to me.”

But Brown was eager to start on his way in the coaching profession, so he moved across the river to take an entry-level coaching position at Dartmouth College. Brown has been igniting defenses ever since, where he ran the secondary for coach Joe Yukica.

“At that time, it was an exciting, comfortable move back for the family,” Brown said of his tenure at Dartmouth. “Those were three good years. Joe Yukica had a great impact on me. There are still things I do that I learned from him. He gave me a tremendous amount of responsibility and spent a lot of time grooming me. I appreciate all that he did for me.”

After Dartmouth, Brown worked under revered Yale coach Carm Cozza for six years.

“I remember meeting Coach Cozza in San Diego at the American Football Coaches Convention,” Brown recalled. “He said, ‘I want you to come down next Monday for an interview.’ ”

Brown recalled he felt good about the interview, but knew there were other candidates lined up later that week: “I was surprised when I received a phone call later that night at home in Wilder. First, (Cozza) said they really liked the way we interacted. Then he said, ‘See you tomorrow.’ ”

It was the start of a special collaboration.

“What Carm Cozza taught me was everything is about relationships,” Brown said. “It’s about relationships with alumni, relationships with players and relationships with staff. We had a good defensive run at Yale, and we captured an Ivy League title.”

Brown’s coaching ability finally earned him head coaching jobs, first at Plymouth State University, then at Northeastern University and Massachusetts .

For the last five years, Brown has landed defensive coordinator jobs in Bowl Championship Series conferences, first at Maryland under Ralph Friedgen (2009-10) followed by two seasons at the University of Connecticut, where his defense last fall was the ninth-ranked unit in the country.

Success seemed to shadow Brown at every stop. At Plymouth State, he led the Panthers to the playoffs in each of his three seasons. At Northeastern, Brown led the Huskies to a 10-2 mark, capturing a share of the Atlantic-10 title and earning an NCAA playoff berth. Then at UMass, Brown put together the best five-year record in the history of the school at 43-19. His 2006 team was runner-up in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision title game, and another team lost in the national semifinals.

From there, Brown moved up the coaching ladder, taking defensive coordinator jobs at the BCS level, where he finds himself today at Boston College — a job that could very well be Brown’s final stop on the coaching carousel.

“I am excited about what we hope to accomplish here, and if this ends up being it for me, that would be fine,” Brown said.

But does he have any desire to return to the head coaching ranks?

“Any time someone wants you to be a head coach, you are going to evaluate the situation for sure,” said Brown. “Right now I have plenty of work to do, and this is an opportunity I’m looking forward to.”