Jim Brownfield, who coached John Muir High School to national prominence in the 1980s and 90s, died Monday. He was 81. The two-time national coach of the year spent 16 years at Muir – from 1980-1996 – compiling a 191-14-1 record, 22 league titles and six CIF championships. Under Brownfield, Muir won two CIF-Southern Section football titles in 1985 and 1986. He led the girls Mustangs track team to four CIF-SS track tiles and two CIF State tiles in 1985 and 1989.
San Gabriel Valley Newspaper Group Managing Editor Steve Hunt, the Pasadena Star-News prep editor during Jim Brownfield’s tenure at Muir, wrote a touching column on Monday honoring Jim:
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 Monday, even though I knew he had been in poor health since he underwent heart surgery more than a year ago. (To continue, click thread)
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 they 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 1985, his Muir football team had to travel to College of the Canyons to play Antelope Valley 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 College of the Canyons that night and Brownfield, then well into his fifties, led the Mustangs into the stadium. 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 first 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.