By Teddy Rydquist
Leader Staff Writer
One of the most beloved figures to walk through the hallways of Oxford High School daily, the impact Dave Brown has had on countless Wildcat graduates is hard to calculate.
A physical education and health teacher, Brown is also an assistant coach for Steve Laidlaw’s basketball program during the winter and Dave Herrick’s baseball program in the spring. Since joining Oxford Community Schools in 2001, his autumns had been occupied by serving on legendary head coach Bud Rowley’s coaching staff, the last 14 years as co-defensive coordinator.
Following Rowley stepping down in November, Brown was a strong candidate to replace the man who gave him his start in high school coaching, ultimately finishing as the runner-up to Zach Line in the search process.
Possessing a first-class ability to connect with young men and nearly two decades of experience coaching alongside one of the best to ever do it in the state of Michigan, Brown was not on the market long. On Feb. 13, he agreed to join the Troy Athens Red Hawks’ staff as the program’s defensive coordinator and linebackers and quarterbacks coach.
Brown’s wife, Debby, also teaches at Oxford High School, and his son, Trent, is a junior who plays for the school’s football and basketball teams.
“My aspirations are to be a head coach,” Brown shared. “I was very happy working with Bud, loyal, love everything about Oxford.
“I thought about stepping away for a year, just to watch Trent and be around, but it’s in my blood to coach. Trent and a couple of other kids I’ve coached came to me while I was weighing my options and told me, ‘Coach, we get it if you go somewhere else. We know you’re a coach, this is what you do.’
“That helped a lot, plus a lot of nights talking to the rest of my family.”
While there are always unknowns that come with a new opportunity, Brown is excited for the opportunity to make a difference with a whole new cast of characters.
“As tough as it was to leave (the Wildcat football program), I’m still going to impact kids. That’s what I do. That’s why you teach, right? You don’t teach to teach curriculum; you teach to have relationships. You coach to have relationships.
“You hope to pour into kids some good qualities that help them be better when they leave than when you found them.”
Brown’s new role with Troy Athens will not be cutting into any of his other Oxford duties, he will still be teaching at OHS and will continue to assist Herrick and Laidlaw with their respective programs.
“Yep, still going to be teaching and coaching the other two sports here,” he affirmed. “There might be a possibility for me to get re-involved with the Leadership class, too. I helped design that class and was involved for a few years before I stepped away, now, I might get back in it again, which would be great.”
Showing how deep the roots of Rowley’s coaching tree run, the Red Hawks are coached by Billy Keenist, Jr., a 2006 OHS graduate. Brown coached Keenist, 31, throughout his high school career and worked alongside him on Rowley’s staff for three seasons before Keenist joined the Troy Athens staff under then-head coach Josh Heppner as quarterbacks and wide receivers coach in 2015.
Paired with the Wildcats’ new head man, Line, and Kyle Rowley taking over at Armada, Oxford graduates are leaving their mark on Michigan High School Athletic Association football. Brad Fischer, the Lake Orion Dragons’ offensive coordinator, got his start with the Wildcats, too.
The Red Hawks finished 3-6 (2-4 Oakland Activities Association White) in 2019, a two-game improvement over their 1-8 (1-5 OAA White) mark in 2018, Keenist’s first year at the helm.
“I’ve been watching some film and talking to Coach Keenist, who revamped his staff a bit, and it looks like we’ll have some nice returning pieces and we’re moving down to the OAA Blue,” Brown said of his forecast for the Athens defense this fall.
“Talking to their Athletic Director (Robert Dowd) and some of the coaches, the kids are really enthusiastic. They’re fun to be around. Get a couple of kids to buy-in, put some pieces together, and you never know. It’s high school sports, anything can happen.”
Fortunately for the Red Hawks, getting kids to buy-in and connect on their level is a skill Brown has that few can match.
In the mind of this humble reporter, Keenist made one of the strongest hires of the OAA offseason, and Brown getting the opportunity to one day lead his own program is not a matter of “if,” but “when.”