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Early coaching tendencies

Brown wanted to play, then analyze

Patriots defensive backs coach Corwin Brown played eight seasons in the league. Patriots defensive backs coach Corwin Brown played eight seasons in the league. (Robert E. Klein for The Globe)
By Shalise Manza Young
Globe Staff / June 17, 2010

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FOXBOROUGH — Al Groh saw a future coach almost immediately.

When Corwin Brown was a young defensive back with the Patriots and Groh the team’s defensive coordinator, Brown would be in his office on Monday mornings, asking questions about the game the day before: Why did Groh call this play in this situation? What about this play?

Even in the offseason Brown would call Groh, wanting to meet and discuss the finer points of the game.

“He always had an inquisitiveness; he wanted to know more than just what his job was,’’ said Groh, now the defensive coordinator at Georgia Tech.

Currently, Brown’s job is working with the Patriots’ defensive backs. He is back in New England, an assistant coach for the team that made him a fourth-round draft pick out of Michigan in 1993.

Brown played safety in the NFL for eight years, the first four with the Patriots; he split his final four seasons between the Jets and Lions. No sooner had he retired from playing in 2000 did Groh give Brown his first coaching job, putting him in charge of special teams at Virginia, where Groh was then head coach.

Groh had no hesitation about putting a man with zero coaching experience in front of his Cavalier players.

“He was always very enthusiastically involved in special teams, so he had a practical background,’’ Groh said. “We had a staff full of guys who were young and had great personal qualities, they just didn’t have the experience.’’

But Brown’s youth — he was barely 30 when he began coaching — coupled with his experience playing at the highest level made it easy for him to command the attention of his players.

In 2004, he returned to New York as the Jets’ defensive backs coach, and in 2007 reunited with another branch of the Bill Parcells/Bill Belichick coaching tree as Charlie Weis’s defensive coordinator at Notre Dame.

When Weis was let go last fall, Brown moved to a familiar area, working with a man he had spent many an hour with in the film room: Belichick.

Speaking last week, Brown emphasized that as he devoured information, he was first and foremost a player wanting to know as much as possible to excel on the field, but “because I knew I was going to coach I probably listened harder,’’ he said. “When you’ve got [Belichick] telling you things, it carries a little more weight.’’

Coaching under Belichick, for Brown, is no different than playing for him: “Coach Belichick, he keeps things black and white for the most part. I think if you just listen and pay attention to what he is saying, it’s not that hard.’’

Brown and Josh Boyer both oversee the defensive backs, a young group that features a promising mix of players at both corner and safety. Brown’s players say he is highly competitive and detail-oriented, qualities he revealed to Groh long ago.

“It’s great; he’s a real competitive guy and he wants the best from us,’’ safety James Sanders said. “He demands a lot from our unit and he’s a great coach to have. Right now we’re listening to what he says and we’re trying to take it out on the field and be successful as a unit.’’

Brown’s experience as an NFL player continues to command respect from the men he teaches.

“With him playing as long as he did, you know he’s talking from experience, so you definitely pay attention [to] some of the little things that he says,’’ cornerback Terrence Wheatley said. “He’ll pull you to the side and tell you what happened to him, or what he’ll do is draw an example of things he’s seen in the past.’’

In an effort to make sure all of the players in the backfield are on the same page, Wheatley said Brown wants the corners to be more vocal than they have been, talking on the field as much as the safeties do, rather than just responding to instruction.

Brown wouldn’t talk much about returning to his professional birthplace, noting that things are no different for him now as a coach than they were when he was a player: He has a job to do and a role to fill.

It’s all fairly black and white, just as it seems he prefers it.

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