Gary Brown, former Wisconsin football assistant, dies after dealing with illness | college football

Gary Brown, the University of Wisconsin running backs coach last season, died Sunday night in Pennsylvania.

The State Journal confirmed the news of Brown’s death after Clarence Hill of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram first reported it. Brown was 52, and he’s survived by his wife, Kim, and three children.

Brown had multiple bouts with cancer in his life and was receiving immunotherapy treatment while he coached the Badgers tailbacks last season. He coached in college and for 11 seasons in the NFL. He spent the 2020 season fighting cancer before he agreed to join UW coach Paul Chryst’s staff before spring practices last year. Brown had Lynch Syndrome, a hereditary disorder that increases the risk of certain cancers, and he has been away from the program since December as he dealt with health issues.

UW moved Brown to an off-field role when he was determined he wouldn’t be able to coach this season, which allowed the program to assist him financially.

Brown was a star running back in his own right before he entered the coaching ranks. He played for Penn State from 1987-90, leading the team in rushing as a sophomore, and played eight seasons in the NFL. He eclipsed 1,000 yards rushing as a professional twice, in 1993 for the Houston Oilers and 1998 for the New York Giants.

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“I am deeply saddened by Gary’s passing,” UW head coach Paul Chryst said in a statement. “Though he was only on our staff for a year he had a profound impact on our players and our program. We are all better people for having known Gary. He was a tremendous person, a terrific coach and a joy to be around. He had great energy and passion for life and that showed every day. My deepest condolences go out to his wife, Kim, his children, Malena and Dorianna and Tre, and his entire family, his friends and everyone who loved him.”

Brown’s longest coaching stint (2013-19) came with the Dallas Cowboys, where he guided league rushing leaders Demarco Murray and Ezekiel Elliott.

“His energy and spirit were infectious,” Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said in a statement. “He lit up every room he walked into and touched the lives of those who knew him in such a positive way. Everyone who knew him, loved him.”

UW players immediately gravitated to Brown, who brought a high level of energy to practices and was quick with positive reinforcement. Though he only spent one season with the Badgers, it was an impactful one. He helped transfer Chez Mellusi develop into a starter, and his work with freshman Braelon Allen laid the foundation for his breakout season.

Allen was recruited to play safety or linebacker, but he moved to running back for the Badgers after a massive senior year carrying the ball for Fond du Lac High School. He led UW with 1,268 yards and 12 touchdowns after joining the tailback rotation the fifth week of the season.

“Everything I did was really because of him,” Allen said about Brown. “When I came in, I didn’t know the first thing about really playing running back. I just kind of knew how to run the ball. So my growth from fall camp to the end of the season was crazy, and it was really all due to him.”

Allen tweeted Sunday night: “This one hurts…rest easy coach.”

Tight end Hayden Rucci tweeted: “Never take a moment for granted. You impacted more lives than you could have known. Rest easy Coach GB.”

Brown’s attitude throughout his struggles was inspirational in the program. He spoke to the team during training camp about his journey, and it stuck with players.

“I don’t really have time to think about the negative things,” Brown told the State Journal. “I have a great time thinking about the positive things.”

Brown told reporters when he first was hired that his fights with cancer strengthened his resolve and made him fight for the people and things he loved.

“It really changed me in a way of realizing that every day is a gift, that what we do is special,” he said. “What I do is special, whether it’s in the NFL or college or wherever, every day is a gift and every day is special. So I think in that regard, it’s helped me understand that when I step into the building, I have to give it my best 100% because none of this is promised. Nothing’s guaranteed. (You’ve) just got to go out and take the blessings that you have and make the most of them.”


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