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Chris Brown & the Next Chapter

  • 23 Sep 2021

All photos: Alex Ho (IG @hoiho_photo)

Last weekend, the USA Women’s 7s team returned to the pitch for the first time since the Tokyo Olympics ended, and as expected, all of the squads competing in the Fast Four tournaments showcase many new, fresh players. The start of a new cycle also sees a coaching change, as Chris Brown (and assistant Matt Long) stepped down as USA’s women’s head coach right after the Olympics ended. It was a planned move, which was discussed at length with Women’s High Performance Manager Emilie Bydwell, and one that kicks off new phases for the coach, his family and the Eagles.

“We had been going back and forth about what post-Olympics could look like,” Brown said of his conversations with Bydwell months in advance of the July tournament. “If I was passionate and really longing to take them to them through the next Olympic cycle, I definitely believe that I could have taken them to another level. But if I didn’t have that excitement or passion to do it, then it wasn’t right to stay in that role when we knew there would be someone else who could take them to that next level, because we have built that environmental foundation. Eighteen out of the 20 players that were there with me are planning to continue through the next Games. They have a really good squad to continue on.”

Photo: Alex Ho (IG @hoiho_photo)

After the Olympic Games, Brown informed the players that he was stepping down and explained why that was the right move for him and his family. That night there was a social at one of the staff hotels with pizza and drinks and laughs, and Brown has remained in contact with most of the players since Tokyo.

“Once you relocate to San Diego, it’s where you spend most of your time, and the people you’re working with and playing rugby with, you end up spending most of your social time with them as well,” Brown said. “You become a family.

“I weeded out a lot of players and a lot of staff that I didn’t want because they didn’t conform to the direction we wanted to go as a team,” Brown added. “I didn’t feel they were going to be a part of that journey. Everybody that was part of the journey in this last chapter were players that I had specifically backed and chose and bought into. I’m hopeful for their next Games and that they actually win that Olympic Gold. Just, unfortunately, I won’t be along with them for that one.”

Brown (crouching) with assistant coach Matt Long / Photo: Alex Ho (IG @hoiho_photo)

That vetting process began back in 2018, after the USA had finished fourth at the Rugby World Cup Sevens in San Francisco. Brown had been working with the USA 7s men’s team as an assistant coach to Mike Friday and filled Richie Walker’s role when he departed the women’s program. Eight weeks later, the 2018-19 HSBC World Sevens Series kicked off in Glendale, Colo.

“I had a bit of an understanding of what was going on there, specifically on-field, but I didn’t have a great understanding of the culture off-field and how they supported each other or how they liked each other, or not,” Brown summarized his knowledge of the team prior to becoming head coach. “It was a bit of a get-in-there and implement a fundamental playing strategy and sharpen up some of their skills and conditioning so that they can perform on the pitch. And while we’re doing that, build a greater understanding of what’s important to the people involved.”

Photo: Alex Ho (IG @hoiho_photo)

Brown noted that “absolute truth” was the most important tenet in building the team culture.

“It’s a stake in the ground – this is right, this is wrong – and building from there,” he said. “The biggest thing I recognized though is the longer you’re in it, the more credibility, the more integrity you’ve got behind you, the more grace there is. There’s more forgiveness. It’s easier to identify and move forward quickly, versus when you’re starting out and you’re a bit more fragile.”

Brown indicated that culture-building was an on-going process and a big part of the three years he spent with the team.

“We would consistently look at the different character traits that we wanted to be known for and remembered for – even when things were good,” Brown noted outcomes like the acronym, BRAVE. “It was looking at where we can prioritize some upskilling, leadership development stuff, relationship management – that kind of thing.”

Photo: Alex Ho (IG @hoiho_photo)

Brown and the team had a stellar series in 2018-19, which began with a Glendale 7s silver medal and ended with gold at Paris 7s. There were many successes in between, and the USA finished the series second in the standings. Brown was named Women’s Coach of the Year. The Eagles picked up right where they left off and won the first stop on the 2019-20 series, Glendale.

Covid-19 wasn’t far behind.

“For us, where we were at, that was actually really, really positive,” Brown reflected on the pandemic shutdown. “Covid actually brought a greater appreciation for each other and for the sport and what we do and the opportunity that we had – which was brilliant. If it happened a couple years earlier, I think it would have been potentially a different story.

Photo: Alex Ho (IG @hoiho_photo)

“It comes down to the choices that we make,” he continued. “We can choose to be the victim, which is what Covid could’ve produced for us. ‘Poor us. This isn’t fair. We don’t deserve this.’ And again, it’s all in context. It’s a sport still. It’s not life and death. With that said, this is something the players and we do day-in and day-out, and it was their dream to play at the Olympics, and the way they responded was really pleasing to see. It wasn’t a victim mindset, it was, ‘Cool. This is what happened. This is what we’re going to do, and this is what we’re going to focus on.’”

Brown confirmed that the team was in a good place mentally leading into the Olympics, which ended with a 6th place finish.

“We didn’t get the result that we desired. There’s a few reasons why there. A few mistakes made from myself and from players in that vital game,” Brown referenced the quarterfinal loss to Great Britain. “And of course when we look back and reflect, there’s things we would’ve wanted to adjust and do slightly differently in some ways. However, from a unity standpoint and from an environment standpoint, they were encouraged to be their best selves, to stretch, to continue growing. I think that was really, really positive and that came through in a lot of the conversations post-Olympics.”

Photo: Alex Ho (IG @hoiho_photo)

Gratitude and appreciation characterized the final get-together in Tokyo, and a genuine good time was had.

“And that’s not always common, especially when there isn’t a sound appreciation for the culture and environment behind it,” Brown said.

The team said its goodbyes and then Brown met his wife and three daughters in South Africa for a well deserved vacation. The Browns will return to San Diego at the end of the September and intend to remain in SoCal at least for the near future.

Brown has formed an executive coaching consulting firm, and has already booked two contracts in SoCal. The family has loved San Diego the past seven years but will consider different locations in the states as work allows.

Photo: Alex Ho (IG @hoiho_photo)

“The three main teams that I’ve coached the last 10 years have been underperforming teams,” Brown explained. “You go in and do an assessment, see where they’re at, work out their strengths, etc., and the weaknesses that they have, and help them build a plan to get better results ultimately and heading in the right direction. So it’s just replicating that in the business world. … It’s the same as what I’ve been doing, just with different population groups.”

Brown expects rugby coaching contracts to pop up, and he’ll play that same advisor role to help teams achieve the on- and off-field goals they’ve set. Meanwhile, he anticipates seeing the many Chula Vista residents who have remained in the program.

“Like I said, they become your family,” Brown closed.

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