In Memory

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James L Brownfield

Brownfield's Legacy More Than Wins, Titles

By Steve Hunt, Senior Editor of the San Gabriel Valley News Group


James Lewis Brownfield was one of the most amazing men I ever had the good fortune to know, report on, and count as a friend.  I was unprepared for his death May 24, 2010, even though I knew he had been in poor health since he underwent heart surgery more than a year ago.

Although most will remember Jimbo for his Muir High School football coaching exploits, he also coached track and field, cross-country, basketball and tennis in his storied career that included stints at Palm Springs and South Pasadena high schools, Loyola Marymount University, L.A. Pacific College, Cal State Northridge, and USC.

I honestly think he could have coached any sport he wanted to, and would have done so better than just about anyone else.  Career record, all sports?  How about 549-110-4.  In 61 seasons as a head coach, Brownfield's teams won 50 championships of one variety or another.  He was a disciple of former UCLA basketball coach John Wooden, in the sense that he absolutely believed in Wooden's pyramid of success.  Brownfield, who called Wooden his hero, even incorporated Wooden's pyramid into his own "Ten Commandments of Coaching."

I've known and covered a lot of coaches over the years, but I never met anyone as driven as Brownfield.  He was a winner, and he wanted to win.  Always.  And he almost always did.  He was as intense as they come on the field, and as well-prepared for a game as anyone I ever met - regardless of the sport he was coaching at the time.  He could spot talent a mile away, yet also develop talent with the best of them.

During the fall, I don't know how he could have squeezed one more minute of football into his day than he did.  I sometimes wondered if he slept.  He was just as apt to invite you to meet him for breakfast at 7 in the morning as he was to join him for dinner at 7 at night.  If you opted for breakfast, he had already been at the restaurant for at least an hour and had three cups of coffee by the time you met him.  If you chose dinner, you could bet he'd close the place after just one more cup of coffee.

He truly cared about his athletes and about their education.  He took great pride in having scholar-athletes on his team, those who had B averages or better.  And he was just as happy when one of his athletes got an academic scholarship as when one received an athletic scholarship.  Study hall was a mandatory part of his Muir football practices for many years.  A lot of coaches say they want their players to do well in school, but Brownfield actually took steps to make sure the DID do well in school.  These were no-nonsense sessions.  Bring your homework, get it done, then we can go practice.  You could have heard a pin drop in those study hall sessions.

Brownfield also was a father figure to many of his athletes.  One year, he had a young man playing for him who went home after practice only to find that his mother and father had both left.  Brownfield helped that young man get through that experience.  He was continually taking players to dinner, especially if he was concerned they might not get an adequate meal at home.  Lord knows how much of his own money he spent doing that over the years.

I'm sure he also spent a lot of his own money getting the Hall of Fame All-Star Game off the ground in 1980.  Even though he organized a supporting cast to help, there was no denying Brownfield was the driving force behind that game.  Thirty years later, it's still going strong, giving high school football players throughout the San Gabriel Valley one last chance to shine before the home folks.

Brownfield "retired" in 1996, but don't think he didn't continue to work.  He just didn't teach in a classroom during the school year or prepare game plans.  He was still working hard, working for kids, working for the coaching profession.  He was president of the National High School Athletic Coaches Association, president of the National Federation of High School Coaches Association, and director of the NFL Football Coaches Academy.  In his spare time, he helped his alma mater, Hollywood High School, with its alumni association.

He was truly one of a kind - a man of conviction, talent, energy, vision, humor.  He knew how to connect with people, and how to motivate them.  To illustrate that, I will close with a true story that sums up Jim Brownfield:

In December of 1986, his Muir football team had to travel to Antelope Valley to play in the CIF - Southern Section championship game.  It was a cold night, much colder than Pasadenans or Altadenans were used to in December.  There had been a lot of talk in the newspapers about the cold throughout the week, so much so that the Muir players were almost psyched out about it.  Well, the Muir buses rolled up to the stadium that night, and Brownfield, then well into his fifties, led the Mustangs onto the field.  He promptly took off his shirt and did a break dance on the field.  "Cold?  What cold?  This isn't cold," Brownfield told his players in what still ranks as perhaps the greatest pre-game motivation effort I've ever heard of.  Well, from that point on you might have thought it was 80 degrees in the stadium.  The cold was never an issue as Muir went on to defeat Antelope Valley and win the second of back-to-back CIF championships.  Afterward, all the players could talk about was Brownfield taking his shirt off and doing the break dance.

I feel privileged to have known Jimbo, to have watched him work, to have shared some good times with him.  The world was a better place with him in it.  We shall not see a man like James Lewis Brownfield again.

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05/26/10 08:12 AM #1    

James Tomlin (1961)

Coach Brownfield was my sophomore science teacher in 1958-9 and in many ways the best teacher I had at SP He was a real "you can do it" guy, and encouraged me to run. I'm sorry he left and I never had him for a coach, but we kept in touch over the years and he helped me a lot when I became a teacher. It was a good moment when he said, "I told you you could run." He was head coach of three varsity sports and an assistant in varsity football along with teaching 5 classes. How did he ever have time to make you feel he was so interested in you?


08/01/10 04:35 AM #2    

David W Currey (1961)

I have many memories about Coach Brownfield.  He was my backfield coach at SPHS and in those days as sophmores you played on the B team unless invited to the varsity.  Coach Brownfield encouraged me to stay on the varisty and I will always appreciate his positive coaching.  He and Coach Solari were my mentors at a time in my life when I appreciated direction.  He was one of many coaches that connected with my life....

Coach Brownfield wore many hats a SPHS.  He also was my driver ed teacher.  Our trip to Palm Springs one Sat morning gave me the needed hours to get my drivers license.  What a trip and what a big deal at that time of my life.......nice going coach!

I also have a special memory of Coach Brownfield because later on in our lives, he was part of a new beginning and special happening for me.  He introduced me to Elaine Rohde, who was a Cheerleader/Song Girl at Muir.  Elaine later became Mrs. David Currey and we have been enjoying our married lives ever since..........thanks coach.....we will miss you.


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