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High school football: Transplant from California pours into Gainesville's program as mentor to coaches and players
79-year-old Phil Brown has background in coaching high school football in Southern California, is concerned with developing quality young men
Phil Brown
Gainesville High coach Heath Webb, left, with Phil Brown

One of the biggest blessings to the football program at Gainesville High is a 79-year-old from Southern California. 

Phil Brown, who coached high school football in Southern California from 1963-1980, relocated to Gainesville in 2017 with his wife of 40 years, Jan, and immediately found a home working with the Red Elephants’ coaches and players in a role as character-development mentor.

It’s a strictly voluntary role, for Brown, but one he wouldn't trade for anything.  

And the results Brown has brought about for the Red Elephants (3-1, 1-0 Region 6-7A) have been astronomical, according to their head coach Heath Webb. 

“It didn’t take long before I realized that Phil was someone who I could lean on,” said Webb, who was introduced to Brown by Fellowship of Christian Athletes directors Clint Fair and Jason Lester, three weeks after taking the job at Gainesville in 2018. “What he does for us means the world to me.”

Webb said his relationship with Brown has nothing to do with X’s and O’s, even though the retired coach doesn’t miss a game. Brown said he’s in the bleachers with his wife, whether the game is at City Park Stadium or on the road. 

Brown just wants to be there to lend a helping hand for not only the coaches, but to also show the players that an adult cares about their development as people. 

Since becoming acclimated to the program, Brown hit the ground running and has been one of the driving forces behind matching players with mentors in the community, a program called "Breakfast of Champions" that meets every month. 

Currently, the Red Elephants’ coach said Gainesville has 94 mentors and 96 players. 

Much of Brown’s work comes from his desire to share his Christian faith. 

However, the immediate result has been players who have developed better people skills and learned how to interact with adults. 

It’s long hours, but Brown, who spent 20 years working in commercial real estate in Orange County, California, knows it will help give these young men a better chance at becoming successful in life. 

The Red Elephants’ senior advocate may have left the corporate work 20 years ago, but bristles at the idea of stopping the work he cares so much about, a lasting testament to sharing his faith.

“Oh, I’m never going to retire,” said Brown, who said he recently had to give up driving. “They’ll have to carry me out.”

“I wish I had the energy that Phil has,” Webb said with a laugh.

Webb takes Monday to have lunch with Brown. They talk about everything, especially life away from football. 

Gainesville’s coach is married with three young children, while Brown put five children through college. 

Then on Tuesdays, Brown will meet with the rest of the coaching staff. Those who are interested in doing so talk about issues regarding faith. They also share their own lives and get the keen insight from their new friend who speaks with a discernible Southern California accent.

Webb said one of the most touching displays of Brown is when he comes and shares lunch with the football players. 

There’s no generation gap when they get together. 

In fact, Webb said his players gravitate to Brown when he comes to share pizza with them in the cafeteria. 

Since lunch is divided into different shifts, due to continued coronavirus precautions, Webb said between 10-20 players at a time will saddle up at the table with Brown. 

“Phil asked me one time, ‘Why do all these players respond like they do to an 80-year-old man?’” Webb said. “I told him, ‘It’s because they know you care about them.’”

Brown feels honored to be a part of what Webb has going with the Red Elephants. 

“What Heath has done with this program is nothing short of remarkable,” said Brown, who started working as a mentor with Santa Ana High during the 2012 season, while still in California. “(Webb) has done a complete turnaround here and the kids are just a joy to be around.”

Following a recent automobile accident, Brown agreed to give up driving and let his wife help him get around. 

However, he doesn’t plan on doing any less with the Red Elephants football program.

For Brown, this is sharing his faith through football. 

“(Phil’s) helped in every aspect of the maturation of our program,” Webb said.

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