MIDDLEBURY — The coach with the most wins and highest winning percentage in the history of the Middlebury College men’s basketball program is staying put.
Jeff Brown, 51, first confirmed to the Independent in a Sunday email that he had decided not to pursue the men’s basketball opening at his alma mater, the University of Vermont. His choice was reported on the Independent website on Sunday evening.
Fans of the Middlebury and UVM programs had speculated about a possible move for Brown to Burlington, both in conversations around Addison County and in Burlington Free Press online comment boards.
Brown had been mentioned in media reports, including on the front page of the Free Press, as on the short list of possible successors to Mike Lonergan. Lonergan recently departed the UVM men’s program after six successful years, including one NCAA Division I tourney appearance, to take over the George Washington men’s team.
On Monday, Brown — whose 2010-2011 Panthers went 28-2 and reached the NCAA Division III final four — sat down with the Independent and expanded on the reasoning behind his decision.
“I love working here. I feel very supported with my colleagues on staff here and the administration. And I feel extremely proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish in the recent history of Middlebury basketball,” Brown said. “And again, I think the strongest piece was just the student-athletes that I work with. They’re caring, they’re giving, they have a great work ethic, and I would just really like to continue coaching them.”
In addition to leading the Panthers to the NCAA D-III tourney in each of the past four years, Brown has a 206-150 record and a .579 winning percentage at Middlebury. And in the past five years, his teams have steadily improved: from 15-10, to 19-8, to 24-4, to 25-4 and to 28-2.
Brown earned membership in the UVM Basketball Hall of Fame after his playing career and assisted former UVM coach Tom Brennan for nine years before coaching men’s basketball at Bates for three years. He then moved to Middlebury, where he’s led the program for the past 14 winters.
He acknowledged that background probably made him a logical candidate at UVM.
“I think being a former player up there, being someone who was a former assistant basketball coach for nine seasons up there, and with our recent success, I certainly could see my name being thrown out there,” Brown said. “But again, there were never any discussions between the athletic administration at UVM and myself other than me telling them that I am not going to be a formal candidate for the position.”
Certainly, there were some informal talks among those with ties to the Catamount program, and Brown weighed the possibility.
“I was certainly flattered to hear from former teammates, some other alums, some of whom played for me when I was an assistant coach there, and all of that was flattering, and I certainly gave it some thought along with my wife,” he said. “And the conclusion we really came to was this was a fantastic place and I really enjoy coaching my group, and I think we have tremendous chemistry, and a special bond. And I just feel like our business here isn’t done yet.”
Middlebury College Athletic Director Erin Quinn said for many reasons he was happy to hear Brown would still be working in the same building.
“I am thrilled that Jeff will remain at Middlebury,” Quinn said. “He has brought the program to new heights of success, but he has also been an outstanding mentor to his student-athletes and a great colleague in our department. Jeff has earned a reputation as a hard-working coach, a tireless recruiter, and an outstanding teacher and motivator.”
Brown said he has no plans to pursue any other openings, but like anyone else in the job market he would never say never.
“My thought process might have been different several years back, and it might change several years into the future ... As the head coach you always get the question, well, how long are you going to be here? And you can never give a clear-cut answer. But a response that I often come up with is, ‘This could be the last place that I ever coach,’” he said.
“My thought process could change down the road, but for right now I just feel strongly this is a tremendous place. I’ve gained so much in so many different areas of being involved in Middlebury College and being part of this community.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.