1988 was a fantastic year. “Die Hard” just hit the big screen, Def Leppard’s “Pour Some Sugar on Me” littered the airwaves and Prozac just hit the market. As if those things weren’t great enough to have happened that year, Newman University gained one of its most admired staff members and longest-standing coach: Cliff Brown.
When asked how he felt about becoming the longest-standing coach at Newman, Brown, who coaches soccer, humbly replied, “To be honest, I really do not think about that at all. Newman has been a good home to me, and I just try to do everything I can to help the university thrive.”
Brown keeps his bragging rights in his trophy case. You really have to get to know him well enough for him to open up about his achievements.
Most people, especially those new to Newman, are surprised to learn that Brown has a Ph.D., taught undergraduate and graduate business courses as an adjunct professor and played professional soccer as goalie with several teams in his younger years including the Seattle Sounders and the Wichita Wings.
A running start
During his first year of coaching in 1988, while Brown was finishing his undergraduate degree at Newman, he led the men’s soccer team to earn the district 10 championship and move on to the regional tournament.
Just one year later, Brown not only started the women’s soccer program, but also coached them to a regional tournament.
Brown led the men’s soccer team to the national championships in 1996, when at the time, only 12 National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) teams in the country could compete.
In that tournament, the Jets tied two games both with 1-1, which forced their elimination. He would later take the team to nationals two more times while in the NAIA.
Later, in 2005, Brown completed his MBA at Newman.
In 2014, the year after a brutal men’s soccer season with only a single win, Brown reached what he might say was one of his proudest achievements.
That year, he turned the men’s soccer team around to rank No. 6 in the region with a record of 13-5-1 and placed as finalists in the Heartland Conference Tournament.
“For me, the most memorable moments involve the development of my student athletes as individuals,” Brown said.
Cold hands, warm heart
Brown talked about a particularly cold morning on the Newman soccer field back in 1996, the same year that the men’s soccer team first qualified for the national tournament.
The men’s team was to compete in the region final game originally set for a Saturday.
“… these are the things that no one here ever sees from our athletes. They are incredible people.”— Coach Cliff Brown
“A strong thunderstorm came through, forcing the postponement of the game to Sunday. Saturday night, a cold front came through and froze the field, and the water on it, solid. At that time our field was right on Kellogg where the gym now sits.
“I arrived early Sunday morning to try to see what I could do to make the field playable. I borrowed a Shop-Vac from maintenance, and for two hours, worked at breaking the ice and sucking the puddles under it. Later in the morning, one of my players who did not see a lot of time on the field, came by to see what he could do to help. He had made the decision that he would contribute to the team in any way possible. He took over the work on the field for me so I could go in, warm up, dry out, and prepare for the game. He was an incredible servant to the program and to the university.”
Brown added, “But these are the things that no one here ever sees from our athletes. They are incredible people who dedicate so much to the success of our community.”
Brown said all the effort was worth it.
“Oh, we won the game, and a deciding moment was when the opponents broke free to goal. (They) shot and the ball stopped on the goal line in a puddle giving just enough time for one of our defenders to come back and clear the ball to preserve our victory. So I guess a little water was still on the pitch.”