(From the forthcoming book, Coach Lightning)
(Note: Anybody can be an influence to people sitting right in front of them. But it takes a special kind of character to continue to shape lives you first touched 50 years ago. The following is an excerpt about the way Morris Brown did that, and how his influence lives on to this day. You can see other excerpts here and here.)
Benjamin Disraeli, the British statesman, once said, “The greatest good you can do for another is not just to share your riches, but to reveal to him his own.” That’s what you discover when you talk to the people whose lives were touched by Morris Brown. You hear the language of wealthy people. And they’ll tell you that Coach Brown was instrumental in revealing their riches to them.
One of the greatest contributions any leader, teacher, or friend can make in terms of influence is to “raise the bar” in the pursuit of excellence. Morris did that time and time again. Don Hunt calls him a “beacon in my heart and soul” to this day. From the days of Little League baseball until today, Don says, Coach Brown’s life and actions remind him to strive to be the best person that he can be.
It’s interesting to note that in all the conversations or interviews about Coach Brown’s influence, nobody went to a chalkboard and started drawing the X’s and O’s of a football locker room. Morris influenced players and students by first influencing them as people. As he helped raise up a generation of excellent people, the on-field or on-court play took care of itself.
Another important thing to notice about Coach’s influence: words always took a back seat to actions. Oh, you’ll hear the occasional story about something he would say in teasing or teaching someone. But mostly what you hear is the story of a man who led by example and influenced by action. The way Robert Earl Scruggs described it at Coach’s memorial service, Morris lived his funeral sermon in front of him for the 50 years they knew each other. “How wonderful can that be?” he asked rhetorically.
How wonderful indeed. Jill Glenn talks of the respect she had for Coach Brown and the way he conducted himself on and off the athletic fields. “I never heard him utter a curse word,” she said. “Actually, I really never heard him raise his voice. He was a quiet and gentle man with a winning smile. Coach Brown touched and influenced so many lives at Shady Grove and West Jones. He will live on in each one of their memories for the rest of their lives.”
Influence is never neutral, and it never takes place in a vacuum. Whenever people talk about influence in general, it’s always attached to something really good or painfully bad. And when people live unforgettable lives, the shape of their influence is crystal clear. Morris is proof of that. In describing his influence, Don Hunt says that Coach taught him “the importance of hard work, discipline, sacrifice, and commitment. And, especially to strive to make good decisions in life.”
Lewis Goins, who taught with Morris at Shady Grove, experienced that influence from a different angle – that of an inexperienced teacher.
Coach Brown took me under his wing as a young teacher and coach and taught me how to work with students and parents. I give him all of the credit for my success in working with students. He was an expert in the areas of discipline and encouraging students. He once said to me, “Whatever you do in dealing with students, always be fair in your dealings. If you give respect, you will get respect.” Coach was a true example for me, and most of all he was my friend who I miss a lot.
Robert Earl Scruggs calls him a finisher – a model of determination. “I don’t know if there was ever a time that Coach ever quit a race. He was quick to tell you that he never had anyone to outrun him. I can just hear him now saying to St Peter, ‘I’ll race you from here to the Golden gate. What do you say?’”
The greatest of the positive influences are forged out of the three things that the Apostle Paul said live on in us and beyond our lifetime: what we believe (faith), what we expect in the future (hope), and who we care about (love). Morris left a legacy of memories in all three areas. He was a believer – first in Christ (more on that in the next chapter), then in the people he loved, and they knew it. He influenced those around him to believe, expect, and strive for the best in their future. And the greatest, most common testimony of Coach Brown’s students, peers, friends and family: He loved. Oh, how he loved. Robert Earl Scruggs adds:
That’s what is important – those memories created out of love. Coach created a bunch and he is enjoying the fruits of his labor. I hope that you and I, because we crossed paths with Coach Morris Brown, will have the same influence, and that someday someone can say of you that you were a memory maker. And you left some memories because memories will never die. Faith, Hope, and Love. The greatest of these is love because it never fails.
It was a little silly story as Wendell Gavin described it, but one with a poignant (and pungent!) message. A man and his grandson were walking down the road when the grandson said he smelled a skunk. The Grandfather told him it wasn’t the skunk he was smelling – it was influence. “Coach Brown is gone,” Wendell said, “but his influence will be around Jones County for a long, long time.”
Don Hunt adds in his tribute a sentiment that many more would attest to: “Yes, you were my coach; in fact you are the only person in my athletic life who I feel comfortable calling you ‘my Coach.’ And, I hasten to add that you are still my coach and always will be.”
The immediate influence of a boss, friend, pastor or teacher can be felt, well, immediately. Daily contact, regular accountability, and ongoing communication keep our prime movers front-and-center on our life’s radar. It’s a completely different brand of influence, however, when an army of men and women rise up and call someone blessed after 40 or 50 years.
Oh, to live that long and longer in the lives of those we touch.
Oh, to leave that powerful a legacy.
Oh, to command that kind of influence.