A few months after Brian Brown took the job as head football coach at Annapolis High School, he swore coaching wouldn't be his top priority. He'd teach his players, not just coach them. He'd instill discipline and demand academic excellence.
"There are so many important things I want to do here," Brown said late in the summer. "I like to win. But the truth is, winning might not be all that important."
A month into the season, he's proven himself wrong.
By winning, by guiding the Panthers to an impressive 3-1 start, Brown has restored school pride at Annapolis and invigorated the student body. En route, he's also instilled discipline in his players and re-established Annapolis as a local power and a playoff contender.
"Our record has just changed things," Annapolis quarterback Matt Vollono said. "People are excited about the team again. It's had an impact on everybody."
Annapolis hired Brown because he promised to teach discipline. "It's about showing these kids how to play and how to live," said Brown, an Annapolis alum and previously an assistant coach at Southern. "I'm coaching more than football. I want my kids disciplined everywhere. They're probably sick of me saying, 'You'd better behave.' "
You'd better behave in the classroom.
After he was hired as head coach, Brown -- then a physical education teacher at Southern -- requested a transfer to teach at his new school. He wanted to watch his players all the time. At the start of the season, he instituted a mandatory, one-hour study hall.
"I'm serious about academics," Brown said. "I want to raise their grades. We're not messing around."
You'd better behave on the field.
If a player mouths off during practice, the whole team runs. Vollono has suffered, by his count, a few miles of sprinting and a thousand push-ups because of teammates goofing around during practice. "We learned pretty quickly," Vollono said, "that being quiet and listening makes our lives a lot easier."
You'd better behave in social situations.
After Annapolis lost to Arundel last weekend, 35-32, Brown heard that a few of his players were wandering around the parking lot and talking to girls. "Disgusting," Brown said, shaking his head. Then he yelled: "Everybody get on the bus so we can get out of here. We didn't come to socialize." His players sprinted to the bus.
Brown has remodeled Annapolis football so completely that it's easy to forget he's been a part of the program for just a few months. Two weeks before the season, he sat in his office and stared at a roster. He struggled to memorize even the names of key players.
"Our quarterback's going to be good," Brown said then. "Matt, that's his name. I don't know his last name. We've got some athletes on defense, too. There's, umm. . . . . Well, I obviously have to get to know our team."
He learned quickly. Just four games into the season, Brown paces the sidelines with confidence and bravado. He doesn't know just his players' names; he knows what drives them.
In a 13-7 overtime win over Severna Park on Sept. 17, Brown watched his team fumble the ball six times and commit 10 penalties. Late in the fourth quarter, players walked to the sideline expecting a tirade. Instead, they got a joke. "He knows that sometimes it's better to lift us up, not bring us down," said running back Myron Watkins. "He always knows just what we need."
That's why he reinstituted Annapolis's traditional Delaware Wing-T offense this season. Brown watched films of Annapolis's multiple offense last year and saw the Panthers throw their way to a disappointing 3-7 record. "We have to get back to what this school is about," Brown said. "Keep it simple and let our athletes just run around people."
How devoted is Brown to the run-heavy Delaware Wing-T? His team typically throws about eight times each game, and Annapolis's roster doesn't list a singe wide receiver.
"Everybody's a running back," said Watkins, a receiver last year, when Annapolis ran the multiple offense. "We aren't going to throw very much, because that's not our style. We're going to bang it at you and move it up the field one run at a time. It might not sound exciting, but it works for us."
And heck, winning is exciting. Inspired by the team's fast start, Annapolis fans have showed up in droves to watch the Panthers -- even if they rarely pass. Against Arundel, more than 150 Annapolis fans showed up, many of them wearing customized Annapolis football jerseys. And that was for a road game, played at 3:30 on a weekday afternoon.
"He's really turned things around," Old Mill Coach Mike Marcus said. "They're in love with him over there. He's an Annapolis boy. He knows everybody, the whole community, and he's giving them something to get excited about."
"It's like night and day," Vollono said. "Last year, we thought this team was an embarrassment. I'm proud of what we've done. We've given this school something to get excited about."