Gary Brown, who was a running backs coach at Wisconsin last season but was unable to travel with the team to the Las Vegas Bowl in December due to health reasons, died Sunday. Brown is 52 years old.
He is survived by his wife Kim, daughters Malena and Dorianna and son Tre.
Brown coached 11 seasons in the NFL, earning the respect of Washington University coaches and players in Paul Chryst’s only season.
“It’s difficult,” said traffic jam guru Ches Melucci earlier this spring when asked about Brown’s disappearance. “If it wasn’t for Coach Brown, I probably wouldn’t be here. It’s hard for me, but the most important thing is his health. As sad as it is, it’s the most important thing.”
Under his tutelage, freshman Breron Allen grew into one of the best running backs in the Big Ten last season.
After Wisconsin lost Melucci (815 yards, 5 TDs) to a knee injury in November, Allen took over as the starter and finished with 1,268 yards, 6.8 yards and 12 TDs. He was the consensus pick for the second team, both in the Big Ten.
Brown was born in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, and was a running back at Penn State. He played for three teams in eight seasons in the NFL before retiring in 1999.
He was diagnosed with cancer twice, first when he was in his early 40s and coaching running back for the Cleveland Browns. Doctors diagnosed cancer in his colon and liver. He underwent chemotherapy and surgery and ended up with a clean bill of health.
The second was after the 2019 season, when Brown was one of several Dallas Cowboys assistants who were not replaced by new head coach Mike McCarthy. This time, doctors found a malignant tumor near Brown’s pancreas.
Brown opted for immunotherapy without training in 2020, then joined the UW staff to replace John Settle.
Gary Brown worked for the Dallas Cowboys from 2013-19, but joined the Wisconsin staff in 2021 after leaving football in 2020.
Brown was seen as the Badgers head to Las Vegas and beat Arizona State 20-13 on Dec. 30.
His condition worsened, and UW officials eventually concluded that Brown would not be able to train this season, despite plans to help him financially.
Shortly after joining the UW staff, Brown explained how he chose to live despite being diagnosed twice with cancer.
“When you’re sitting alone and you’re alone thinking about what’s going to happen next,” he said, “you really think about what you can take away. Not just football, but your family and friends.
“It will do one of two things to you. It will eat you, you will crash and go into a corner and die, or you will fight.