Penn Stater, Williamsport native Brown dies
Gary Brown, who rushed for 4,300 yards while playing on three NFL teams in the 1990s before going on to coach running backs in the pro and college ranks, has died. He was 52.
Wisconsin’s athletic department and the Dallas Cowboys announced that Brown died Sunday. The Williamsport Sun-Gazette reported he succumbed to cancer, which he had battled on multiple occasions.
Brown coached Wisconsin’s running backs last season before departing for health-related reasons. He coached the Cowboys’ running backs from 2013-19.
“I am deeply saddened by Gary’s passing,” Wisconsin coach Paul Chryst said in a statement. “Though he was only on our staff for a year, he had a profound impact on our players and our program. We are all better people for having known Gary.”
He spent the 2020 season away from football, with his wife disclosing on social media at the time that a tumor had been found around the bile duct and head of Brown’s pancreas. Brown had dealt with colon and liver cancer about a decade earlier.
“What it did for me is it made me appreciate every day, made me sort of maximize every day and make sure you don’t leave anything on the table in life, with your family, with football, whatever you’re doing at that particular point,” Brown said last summer. “It just made me focus on what’s good in your life and take advantage of everything you have in your life.”
Brown graduated as Williamsport Area High School’s all-time leading rusher and made the seemingly impossible become routine while playing there from 1983-86. In his final season, Brown led Williamsport to the Eastern Conference championship, before the PIAA began to hold district and state tournaments.
Brown played at Penn State and, ironically, will forever be fondly remembered by Nittany Nation for a play he made as a defensive back. As BYU and 1990 Heisman Trophy winner Ty Detmer were attempting to complete a late comeback in the 1989 Holiday Bowl, Brown delivered the play of the game. He hit Detmer, stripped the ball and returned it 53 yards for the clinching touchdown as Penn State won, 50-39.
The Houston Oilers selected him out of Penn State in the eighth round of the 1991 draft.
Brown played in the NFL with the Oilers (1991-95), San Diego Chargers (1997) and New York Giants (1998-99).
He rushed for 1,002 yards in 1993 and 1,063 yards in 1998.
Brown followed that up with a productive coaching career.
When Brown worked as the Cowboys’ running backs coach on Jason Garrett’s staff, DeMarco Murray and Ezekiel Elliott each won NFL rushing titles and Darren McFadden had a 1,000-yard season. The Cowboys averaged at least 4 1/2 yards per carry in each of Brown’s seven seasons.
“Gary Brown had a big heart partnered with a big smile and a big personality,” Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said. “His energy and spirit were infections. He lit up every room he walked into and touched the lives of those who knew him in such a positive way.”
Brown retired following the 1999 season and came home, starting what became the next chapter in his football life. He began coaching at his alma mater and Lycoming College from 2003-05 before climbing the ranks to Rutgers and then the Cleveland Browns in 2009.
Getting the most out of his players was a Brown staple and it continued in Dallas where he coached from 2013-19. Many thought Darren McFadden’s best days were behind him, but when injuries ravaged the Cowboys in 2013, Brown helped him again become a 1,000-yard rusher. A year later, Demarco Murray set a Cowboys rushing record before Brown helped Ezekiel Elliott burst onto the scene in 2016.
After taking the 2020 season off for health reasons, Brown coached Wisconsin’s running backs last season. Brown played a big role in the emergence of Braelon Allen, who ran for 1,268 yards and eight touchdowns his freshman season after most schools had recruited him to play safety or linebacker.
“Everything I did was really because of him,” Allen said last month. “When I came in, I didn’t know the first thing about really playing running back. I just kind of knew how to run the ball. My growth from fall camp to the end of the season was crazy, and really all the credit’s due to him.”
Brown didn’t join Wisconsin’s team for the Las Vegas Bowl. School officials announced last month that Brown was stepping away from coaching to assume an off-field role with the program.
His coaching career also included a stint at Susquehanna University (2006-07). He helped coach running backs at the New York Giants’ training camp in 2005 and worked with the Green Bay Packers in 2006 and Carolina Panthers in 2007 as part of the NFL’s minority coaching fellowship program.
Chris Masse of the Williamsport Sun-Gazette contributed to this article.