In the 11 years since Watson Brown arrived at UAB as the head football coach, he has seen amazing growth in Blazer football.
Starting with UAB's jump from Division I-AA to I-A status in 1996 to the Blazers becoming a football member of Conference USA to their stature as a contender for conference championships, Brown, as the program's chief architect, has guided UAB football to rapid success. Not bad for a football program that fielded its first team in 1991 at the Division III level.
UAB has progressed steadily through its 10 seasons of competition at the NCAA Division I-A level. The Blazers have been bowl-eligible three times in the past six seasons and in 2004 attained their previously elusive first bowl invitation with a trip to Honolulu to play in the Sheraton Hawai'i Bowl.
Recent squads have featured some of the most potent offensive units in the country. Quarterback Darrell Hackney, who finished his eligibility in 2005 and is now with the NFL's Cleveland Browns, put his stamp on the Conference USA record books with prolific numbers throughout his career.
Hackney, along with All-America wide receiver Roddy White, formed quite a tandem during the 2004 season as they accounted for 14 passing touchdowns. Hackney threw for more than 3,000 yards and 26 touchdowns during the season. Last season, Hackney threw for 3,180 yards and 22 touchdowns.
White became UAB's second first-round draft choice in the past four years in April, 2005 when he was selected in the opening round by the Atlanta Falcons.
Prior to earning the 2004 Hawai'i Bowl berth, UAB had been bowl eligible twice before, finishing 7-4 in 2000 and 6-5 a year later.
The Blazers have finished as C-USA runner-up in nearly half of the seasons in which they have been a league member.
UAB also posted a second place finish in 2001 with a 5-2 league mark. The highlight of the 2000 Blazer season was a stunning upset at LSU. UAB also finished as one of the nation's top defensive teams.
The Blazers followed their success of 2000 with a second-straight winning campaign during the fall of 2001. UAB again featured one of the nation's staunchest defenses, ranking No. 1 in rush defense and yielding only 57.3 yards per game on the ground and No. 5 overall defensively.
The talent the Blazer defense possessed in 2001 did not go unnoticed by the NFL scouts as defensive end Bryan Thomas was tabbed No. 22 overall in the draft by the New York Jets. Teammate Eddie Freeman, a four-year starter at defensive tackle, was picked in the second round by the Kansas City Chiefs. In addition, six other Blazers were signed as free agents following the draft.
In 2002, despite having to replace many key performers from the season before and then encountering a rash of injuries as he had never experienced as a head coach, Brown led UAB within one victory of gaining a bowl berth, finishing 5-7 overall and 4-4 in league play. In 2003, battling another season of numerous injuries, UAB again came within one win of playing in a bowl game.
The Blazers made their debut as a football member in Conference USA in 1999 and recorded a 6-6 overall record against a brutal all I-A schedule, finishing in a four-way tie for second place with a 4-2 league record.
The remarkable growth of the program under Brown's guidance was a major factor in UAB's entry into Conference USA play in 1999; the Blazers' solid performance on the playing field over the past six seasons proved that they are indeed a force with which to be reckoned.
Brown has made an impact off the field as well. Since his arrival in 1995, the program has seen tremendous improvement in its facilities. A new locker room and practice fields were completed during Brown's first seasons at UAB; coaches' offices, training rooms and weight rooms have been renovated as well.
The program has also made tremendous progress in the classroom with improved academic programs and assistance for the players. The team's graduation rate and cumulative grade-point average have improved each of the past nine years.
The success Brown has engineered on the field did not go unrecognized by UAB. In November of 2002, the institution named Brown the third athletics director in school history. Brown stayed in the capacity until last December when he made the decision that he wanted to devote more time to concentrate on the football program.
Though his short tenure at the head of the department was short, Blazer athletics saw an unprecedented level of on-field success resulting in never-before-seen national exposure. UAB has also achieved new heights off the field in the academic success of its student-athletes in recent years.
In his tenure as director, Brown oversaw an athletics program which has now appeared in three consecutive NCAA tournaments in men's basketball; won a Conference USA regular season and postseason tournament title and recorded the program's first-ever NCAA Tournament win in women's soccer and rated fifth nationally in two differently synchronized swimming championships.
Brown has spearheaded a renewed focus on academic success at UAB which, in the last two years, has resulted in over 180 student-athletes being named to the Conference USA Commissioner's Honor Roll. In addition, 49 Blazers received Commissioner's Academic Medals over the past three years.
Also in 2004-05, three UAB student-athletes were honored as the highest ranking scholars in their respective sports for all of Conference USA, and women's soccer standout Briana McCarty was awarded one of seven post-graduate scholarships by the league.
In addition, Brown oversaw an upgrade in facilities for the academic services arm of the athletic department and the upgrade to a state-of-the-art computer lab for student-athletes. Brown has helped the groundwork for more facility improvements in the years to come.
A veteran of more than 30 years in the coaching profession, Brown is known as one of the best offensive minds in football. Prior to coming to UAB, Brown was the offensive coordinator at the University of Oklahoma (1993-94). In 1994, the Sooners averaged 356 yards and 20 points per contest; in 1993, Oklahoma averaged 386 yards and almost 29 points per game. The Sooners' offensive output consistently ranked among the leaders in the Big 8 Conference and the nation.
In 1991 and 1992, Brown was the offensive coordinator at Mississippi State under head coach Jackie Sherrill. During those two seasons, the Bulldogs posted a 14-10 record, made two bowl appearances and upset three nationally-ranked opponents.
From 1986-90, Brown was the head coach at Vanderbilt, his alma mater. Before coaching at Vanderbilt, Brown was athletic director and head football coach at Rice (1984-85). He led the Owls to two of their best offensive seasons.
In 1983, Brown was head coach at Cincinnati, where he led the Bearcats to a season-opening 14-3 victory at defending national champion Penn State. While serving as offensive coordinator at Vanderbilt for two seasons (1981-82), Brown's offense set 57 school records and the Commodores posted an 8-3 record and made a Hall of Fame Bowl appearance (1982).
Brown made his head-coaching debut in 1979 at Division I-AA Austin Peay State. At age 29, Brown was one of the youngest head coaches in the nation; he posted 7-4 records in both 1979 and 1980, twice being runner-up for Ohio Valley Conference Coach of the Year honors.
Brown began his coaching career as a graduate assistant at Vanderbilt in 1973 and was a full-time assistant coach for the first time in 1974 as Pat Dye's quarterback and receiver coach at East Carolina. The Pirates were 7-4 in 1974 and 8-3 in 1975, posting victories over several Atlantic Coast Conference opponents.
Brown was the offensive coordinator at Division II Jacksonville State in 1976 and 1977, where the Gamecocks finished 7-4 and 11-3, respectively. Jacksonville State played for the Division II national championship in 1977. Brown was the quarterback and receiver coach at Texas Tech in 1978, where the Red Raiders posted a 7-4 record in what was supposed to be a rebuilding year.
Brown was a standout quarterback for Vanderbilt from 1969-72 and is perhaps best remembered for leading Vandy to a 14-10 upset over Alabama in 1969. For his efforts, he was named Sports Illustrated National Back of the Week.
Brown's many achievements as a student-athlete and later as a coach in the state of Tennessee have not gone unnoticed. Two years ago, Brown was inducted into the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame.
Coaching runs in the Brown family; Brown's brother, Mack, is the head coach at the University of Texas. His grandfather, Eddie "Jelly" Watson, coached high-school football in the state of Tennessee for some 30 years.
A native of Cookeville, Tenn., Brown is married to the former Brenda Arnold, and they have two children: daughter Ginny, who was a four-year letterwinner in basketball at Georgia State University (1996-00), and son Steven, a 2004 graduate of Vestavia Hills High School and now a student at UAB and a wide receiver on the Blazer football team.