By Keith Lair, Staff Writer
LOS ANGELES – There were supposed to be only tears of joy, but when All-Pro linebacker Chad Brown took to the podium at Forest Lawn Hollywood Hill’s Hall of Liberty on Friday night, the tears flowed. Inger Miller, a 2000 Olympic gold medalist, jumped up to the podium to give Brown a tissue.
Brown was not crying because of the loss of his high school coach, Jim Brownfield. Brown was crying because of what Brownfield, who coached the Mustangs football team for 16 years, did for him. And for the thousands of athletes who were in similar shoes.
“He had a vision for you,” Brown recalled. “You did not know what you could do, but he knew what you could do with your life and he wanted you to do the best you could do.”
The athletes were among the roughly 200 who attended a celebration of Brownfield’s life. Brownfield died May 24 after a nearly 14-month battle after having heart surgery. He was 81.
The celebration featured 16 speakers, including athletes who were coached by Brownfield, those who played against a Brownfield team, fellow coaches, National Football Foundation executives and a former Tournament of Roses director. Ricky Ervins, who played for the Washington Redskins, was able to make two appearances on the podium.
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Minister and motivational speaker John MacArthur, who played for Brownfield at Loyola University, recalled games in the fog in San Francisco en route to a national title, and told the audience of his decision to study the Bible instead of playing football professionally.
It was like a family reunion united by one person. Before the 21/2-hour celebration, which included video presentations, longtime friends made acquaintances again. There were funny stories about running hills, getting sick on them and being the smallest player on the team.
“I weighed only 120 pounds and coach Brownfield had me put knee pads on my arms,” said Gary Foster, who played for Brownfield’s team at Palm Springs High, his first head coaching position. “The one thing he taught us was to have heart. Your heart is bigger than anything else.”
Warren Brownfield, one of Brownfield’s surviving brothers, put on a leather helmet, blew a whistle and barked commands in a Brownfield cadence.
Ray Solari, who helped Brownfield get his first job at South Pasadena as an assistant coach, cross country, track and swimming coach, also put on a leather helmet given to him by Brownfield.
The theme was the same for nearly all in attendance, and if there had not been a time limit because of the closing of the park, the group would have probably stayed in the auditorium swapping Brownfield stories until this afternoon. That’s when a Mustang family memorial will be held, scheduled to start at 4 p.m. on the Muir football field.
Wins may have been a part of his everyday life, but they were not the ultimate goal, all agreed.
“I carry what coach Brownfield taught me to this day,” said Dave Buchanan, who played on one of Brownfield’s early Muir teams. “He made me what I am. I follow the same principals.”
Brown said he had no aspirations of playing in college. He said Brownfield took his parents to dinner to encourage Brown to embrace school work.
“I had five years of college and 15 years in the NFL, and I had no better coach than coach Brownfield,” he said. “He is a legend.”