Column: Caring coach cuts intimidating figure

Neil Brown can cut quite an intimidating figure.

As he sits on the bench for the Brookswood Bobcats senior girls basketball team, his team may be comfortably ahead on the scoreboard, but Brown is not likely to crack a smile.

Instead, the veteran bench boss will sit with his arms crossed, barking instructions and telling his players they can — and must — do a better job on the court.

He doesn’t sugarcoat his comments, either, offering a blunt assessment of what a particular player is supposed to do. And no player is above his critique — whether they are the team’s star or a bench player.

Those watching from a distance might think the coach doesn’t care, but that’s far from the truth.

His Bobcats celebrated the provincial title earlier this month (March 5) at the Langley Events Centre, a convincing 73-50 win over the McMath Wildcats.

While his players hugged and celebrated with their teammates and families, Brown stayed seated, his eyes moist, soaking in the scene.

“For a guy who people see yelling, I am a fairly emotional guy. I struggle at weddings, funerals, things like that,” he says.

The 61-year-old has coached for a long time, both boys and girls basketball, building powerhouse programs wherever he goes.

In 11 provincial championship finals, Brown is an impressive 8-3, including winning three consecutive titles with the Bobcats.

He has coached many of the players since they were in elementary school though the Friday Night Hoops program, which runs out of Brookswood Secondary.

It begins in April and this will be the 18th year he has been involved.

Prior to that, he ran a similar spring program out of Aldergrove Community Secondary for 11 years.

Brown understands that coaching won’t last forever.

He has already decided that he will retire from teaching — Brown is a PE instructor at Brookswood — in June.

He is a part-time teacher these days as he finds it difficult to stand for long periods of time because has no feeling in his right foot.

The surgeon has told him it is not likely to return as it is a result of a broken disc in his back.

But there is no way he won’t be back coaching, whether it is at Brookswood, another school, or a club team.

“I told the kids one time, I am never going to stop coaching so you are going to have to be prepared for me to have the big one (heart attack) on the floor,” Brown joked, adding that he even brought out CPR dummies for the players to practice their resuscitation skills.

And while people may think his players are in fear of this man, their response shows otherwise.

“One of the kids said (if it happened), they would have a shooting contest and the loser would have to do it,” he said.

The thought of that happening brought a rare smile to his face.