Never bet against Thomas Brown”: Panthers hope new play-caller will spark offense
The Los Angeles Rams were preparing for an opponent in 2020 when their then-running backs coach, Thomas Brown, decided to participate in one of their drills, as he often did. Unfortunately, he ended up tearing his Achilles tendon.
However, Brown’s resilience was evident even after his injury. Rams coach Sean McVay recalled how Brown was still on the sideline, chasing after then-Rams’ back, Cam Akers, on a long run. McVay was impressed by Brown’s competitiveness, saying that he was still a “G” who could take a few carries and finish strong even though he should have still been in a walking boot.
Now, Brown is the first-year NFL offensive coordinator for the 0-6 Carolina Panthers. He was handed offensive playcalling duties on Monday by coach Frank Reich, who is betting that Brown’s energy and drive will carry over to an offense that ranks 23rd in total offense and 22nd in scoring.
The Panthers also have a rookie quarterback in Bryce Young, whose 33.2 QBR ranks last in the NFL among 33 qualified quarterbacks. Reich chose the Panthers’ Week 7 bye to give up playcalling, his passion since he called plays as Jim Kelly’s backup with the Buffalo Bills in the late 1980s and early 1990s because it gives Brown the best chance of succeeding. The Panthers have upcoming home games against the Houston Texans (3-3) and Indianapolis Colts (3-3) followed by a Thursday night game at the Chicago Bears (1-5).
Although Brown is only 37 years old, he has already called plays before, from 2016 to 2018, as the offensive coordinator for the University of Miami. McVay, who is considered one of the best young play-callers in the NFL, believes that Brown is ahead of the curve and will do an excellent job as the Panthers’ offensive coordinator.
Brown has joined Eric Bieniemy of the Washington Commanders and Brian Johnson of the Philadelphia Eagles as the only Black play callers in the NFL. He recognizes the opportunity Reich has given him as “huge” for what it could mean to other Black assistants. “It’s a rare opportunity for a number of different reasons,” Brown said. “I won’t dive into my thought process on what the reasons are right now. But I do understand that I have an opportunity to help us have success from a Panthers standpoint while also opening doors for more Black men like myself.”
Brown understands that theoretically, this could impact his career negatively if the offense continues to struggle, but he said he’s “never lived that way.” “There’s no reward without the risk,” he added. “That kind of comes with this profession. I was raised by fighters. So I don’t back out on anything or anybody. It’s easy to give in to the fears of whatever could go wrong. But I have the mindset of having a positive approach and having faith in our process and myself.”
Brown credits his upbringing, from being raised by a minister and school teacher from rural Mississippi to quickly rising up the coaching ranks because of mentors such as former Miami Hurricanes coach Mark Richt, McVay, and now Reich. It’s ironic he is in this position since becoming a coach was the last thing on his mind after finishing his brief career as an NFL running back. He was a sixth-round pick out of Georgia by the Atlanta Falcons in 2008.
At one point, Brown was a self-proclaimed “humongous introvert,” studying to be a businessman selling insurance and investment products before he learned to become the outgoing, energetic coach he is today. But after a 15-page business proposal for a program to help athletes transition to the “real world” was “thrown out the window” without much consideration, he changed direction and began his career as a strength coach at his alma mater. Five years later, he was the offensive coordinator at Miami under Richt, his college head coach.
“I remember watching Thomas when we played against each other in high school,” said McVay, who, like Brown, grew up in Georgia. “He was one of the ultimate competitors. He’s always trying to continue to perfect his craft.”