Just as Husker assistant football coach Ron Brown starts listing some of Nebraska’s legendary black sports figures, he pauses.
Bob Gibson, Ron Boone, Johnny Rodgers, Fred Hare, Bob Boozer ...
Brown trails off. He realizes there are too many to recite. He knows he’s going to forget somebody.
“Lots of great athletes,” he said.
Now Brown, who will be inducted into the Nebraska Black Sports Hall of Fame on Thursday, is part of that accomplished and icon-filled group. It’s mind-boggling for the lifelong coach who admittedly lacks the gaudy in-game statistics and memorable on-field résumé.
“In comparison, that doesn’t seem to fit,” Brown said in a phone interview last week, juxtaposing himself with those illustrious Nebraskans. “But I receive it with great dignity. This is a great honor.”
Brown is part of the Black Hall of Fame’s eighth class, which includes 12 athletes and coaches who will be recognized at Thursday’s dinner. Gerald “Jerry” Allen (football), Damon Benning (football), John Edmonds (football), Calvin Forrest (basketball), Rhonda Blanford-Green (track and field), Jim Hall (multiple sports), Jimmy Jones (multiple sports), Ted Parks (basketball), Tony Ross (football, wrestling), Ron White (basketball) and Richard Wynne (football) are the other inductees. George Anderson will posthumously receive this year’s Image Award for his work as a youth track and field coach.
Brown has been an offensive assistant at Nebraska for 21 years, dating to 1987. He left the program after the 2003 season but returned when coach Bo Pelini was hired in 2008.
Brown, formerly in charge of Husker tight ends, began coaching running backs two years ago. Pelini said last week that Brown’s value goes beyond X’s and O’s.
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“Ron’s important to me, he’s important to our kids, he’s important to our program,” Pelini said. “I think he’s a tremendous representative. I love having him around. I think he’s an invaluable member of our staff.”
And there is no sign that Brown’s slowing down.
He calls himself a “young” 56-year-old. He said he hasn’t contemplated retirement from coaching, despite his drive to also share his faith and mentor other Christians in the state.
Brown and former Husker Stan Parker are co-founders and co-directors of Mission Nebraska. Brown was the director of Nebraska’s Fellowship of Christian Athletes before beginning his second stint with the Huskers. He still makes speaking appearances at churches and events across the state.
“I do ministry while I coach. The two are very much interrelated,” Brown said. “As a Christian, I have a responsibility to make Jesus the priority in my life.”
Brown’s strong beliefs have been controversial in the public forum at times. But he’s indicated that any attention, whether positive or negative, won’t compromise his passion for trying to impact the lives of athletes and the community.
“I’ve always believed that athletics should serve as a catalyst for academic exploits and making a difference in the culture outside of sports,” Brown said. “I take that role very seriously.”