Tim Brown is a Hall-of-Fame receiver and a Heisman Trophy winner, so it doesn’t take a genius to figure out he must have been an accomplished football player. But it did take a head coach to get his career jump-started, and that didn’t happen in high school.
It happened at Notre Dame under Lou Holtz.
Holtz showed up in South Bend in 1986, or prior to Brown’s junior season there. The Irish were coming off a 5-6 season, and Brown had not been exceptional in his first two seasons — scoring few touchdowns and barely making a dent as a playmaker.
But all that would change the minute Holtz got a load of his wide receiver, Brown said on the latest Talk of Fame Network broadcast — so much so that when Brown left as a first-round draft choice of the Oakland Raiders in 1988 he held 19 school records.
“He turned it all around for me,” Brown said of Holtz. “When he got there, I was so focused on the education and going back home and working a normal job. That was all that was on my plate.
“I was doing great in school at the time. and I can remember after two days of spring ball — after two days of practice — he pulled me over and asked me a litany of questions about why wasn’t I playing and all these kinds of things (like) ‘Was it a drug problem? Was it girls? Was it grades? What was it? You tell me what the problem was.’
“And I told him, ‘They just didn’t play me.’ (And he said) ‘There’s no coaching staff in America dumb enough not to play you. You tell me what the problem was.’ And I had to convince him that they just didn’t play me. And he told me then the only way I wouldn’t get the ball was if a team found a way to intercept the snap from center. Otherwise, he was going to find a way to get me the ball.”
And he did. Where Brown had 53 catches his first two seasons, he had 84 the next two years. Where he had 781 yards from scrimmage his first two seasons, he had 2,154 the next two. Where he had 459 yards and one TD by returns his first two years, he had 1,630 yards and five scores on returns the next two.
I think you get the idea. He was a different player under Holtz. He was the game changer his coach envisioned that spring practice when he promised to get Brown the football.
“And two weeks later,” Brown said, recalling his first workouts under Holtz, “he told me he thought I was the best player in the country, and those are accolades that were really almost too much for me to handle. And I remember almost verbally telling myself at one point, ‘Hey, just listen to him. Just do what he asks you to do. And let’s just see what happens. The worst that can happen is you’ll just be right where you are.’
“And that’s what I did. I just trusted him more than I trusted myself, and things just took off for me. Every time I see him now, no matter where we are, I always bow down to him. and he hates it. But I love it because I think he deserves it.”