Given their different personalities, Ron Brown’s choice to continue working for Bo Pelini might seem improbable.
Brown said Thursday the decision was easy and based on the support Pelini gave him at Nebraska when he mingled his Christian faith with football. The 58-year-old Brown this week began his new job as Pelini’s associate head coach and running backs coach at Youngstown State, ending a decades-long association with the Cornhuskers.
”I just felt like God has given me a passion and a desire to continue to coach,” Brown said. ”I feel God’s pleasure when I coach.”
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Brown has attracted national attention, and at times the ire of the American Civil Liberties Union, for using his position as a platform for expressing his religious views.
He was lauded in 2011 for leading a prayer of healing at midfield at Penn State after the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal broke. He was called a homophobe and hater in 2012 for testifying before the Omaha City Council against an ordinance to protect gay and transgender people from discrimination. The ordinance passed.
Brown’s spiritual persona would seem to run counter to that of the hot-tempered Pelini, who made headlines last month when audio surfaced from his expletive-filled talk with players at a meeting following his firing at Nebraska.
”I don’t endorse everything he said and how he said it to our players,” Brown said, ”and some would say, `Why are you going in this direction after all he said to those players and the language he used?’
”I respect Bo because he’s not a public coward, and he’s not politically correct. He’s allowed thousands of young men to hear the gospel of Jesus Christ because he refused to let some system tell him that was not the right thing to do,” Brown said.
A message was left at Youngstown State seeking comment from Pelini.
Brown spent 24 of his 28 years in Lincoln, Nebraska, on the Cornhuskers’ coaching staff. He was first hired by Tom Osborne in 1987 and retained by Frank Solich in 1998. He was out of coaching during Bill Callahan’s four years as coach but was brought back when Pelini took over in 2008.
Brown coached receivers, tight ends and running backs, and was part of the dominant teams of the 1990s that won three national championships. His visibility has allowed him to spread his Christian message through Mission Nebraska, a ministry he co-founded.
Brown said Pelini offered him a spot on his Youngstown staff shortly before Nebraska’s bowl game. He said he had hoped to remain at Nebraska under new head coach Mike Riley and that they spoke for five or 10 minutes.
”I realized it was a chat, not an interview,” Brown said. ”He told me he couldn’t keep me.”
Riley told reporters he respected the work Brown had done at Nebraska but that he was compelled to build his staff with people he already knew.
Brown said he’ll continue evangelizing in Ohio and has been promised backing by Pelini and the administration.
”Wherever I’m at, that’s how it’s got to be,” Brown said. ”I caught flak for it in Nebraska, got in trouble for it numerous times, but I’d do it all over again.”