UPDATE 5/3: Re-posting this as rumors persist that Brown remains a (the?) top candidate for the BC job.
Former Boston College associate head coach Greg Brown is heavily rumored as a candidate to replace Jerry York behind the bench. This past year, he took his first head coaching gig, steering the ship for the Dubuque Fighting Saints in the USHL - one of the nation’s premier developmental hockey leagues.
To get an inside look at Greg Brown’s first head coaching job, we reached out to Dubuque Fighting Saints insider Jim Leitner, the sports editor for Dubuque’s Telegraph Herald.
Suffice to say, Leitner and others in Dubuque have been impressed by Brown’s first year behind the bench. Dubuque is currently 2nd in the Eastern Conference with a 39-16-5 record, with just two games left in its regular season.
Leitner was kind enough to answer some of our questions:
Greg Brown has been at the helm at Dubuque for just one season, but the team seems to be performing very well under him. What are your first impressions of Brown as a head coach - on the ice, as well as how he connects with his players?
Jim Leitner, Sports Editor, Telegraph Herald:
The USHL is loaded with future NCAA Division I and professional players, and the coaching is outstanding. That goes for all 16 teams. There are no nights off. Teams will go on nice stretches of success, then their opponents kind of figure them out.
What has impressed me so much about Greg is his ability to make adjustments and evolve the group as a 62-game season goes along. There have been a few teams that have presented match-up problems for Dubuque, but Greg and his staff have found ways to counter those styles and have success against them later in the season. Most recently, the Saints have adjusted their style in preparation for playoff-style hockey, and they’ve won seven straight.
My first impression of Greg came back in September, when I went to one of his practices for the first time. They were working on the power play at one end of the ice, and one of the younger players on the team was kind of off to himself at the other end of the ice because he wasn’t involved. It seemed like the player was having a rough practice, too. Greg noticed this, called him over, put his arm around him in a nurturing way and started to explain what they were trying to accomplish with the power play. He got the rookie engaged in the practice, and you could see his confidence level grow for the rest of the practice.
I really like how he gets everyone on the team involved and how he shares the credit. He gives assistant coaches Evan Dixon and Justin Hale their share of responsibilities, lets them do their jobs and praises them for team success. He has a veteran group of players, and all of them have bought into a team-first attitude and winning when it matters most.
With Greg’s personality, it seems like the player-coach relationship is more of a partnership, and the players have really responded. I’ve seen tremendous growth in a lot of players this season.
BCI: What has been the sense on the ground in Dubuque about where the USHL path fits in with Brown’s career goals and trajectory? He’s been linked to the future BC job for a long time, even dating back to when he was an assistant at BC - is the presumption that he’s looking to get to a D1 college job, or is that not certain at this point?
Since Dubuque returned to the USHL in 2010-11, they have had five head coaches.
Jim Montgomery left Dubuque after three years for Denver, where he won an NCAA title. Matt Shaw left after two years for an assistant coaching job at the University of North Dakota. Jason Lammers became the head coach at Niagara after two years in Dubuque. Most recently, Oliver David took an assistant coaching position in Switzerland’s top professional league after four years in Dubuque. Greg Brown is the fifth coach.
In that time period, the Saints are the only USHL team to finish above .500 every season and the only team to qualify for the playoffs every year, and they have won more playoff series than any other USHL franchise. They’ve made the playoffs 11 straight years, and the next-best streak is five (Chicago). (The Saints would have made the 2020 playoffs easily, but the season ended early because of the pandemic.)
Dubuque’s ownership takes pride in developing players AND coaches for the next steps in their careers. That’s the appeal for a decorated coach like Greg Brown to come here, and that’s the expectation for folks on the ground in Dubuque. When he took the job, Greg spoke openly about his desire to get head coaching experience to prepare him for a college head coaching position. The USHL is a great proving ground for coaches, and it shows in the number of current NCAA Division I coaches with experience in this league.
BCI: Brown always struck us at BC as a calm and positive presence behind the bench, similar to Coach York in some ways in his demeanor - would you agree with this characterization of his style?
That’s absolutely correct. I can’t think of a single incident this season where Coach Brown lost his cool on the bench, even when the inevitable call went against his team. And that translates to the players on the ice. It’s much easier for the players to stay in the moment when the coaching staff is even-keeled.
Greg sets a great example for his players in how to handle adversity. Instead of complaining or hanging his head, he finds a positive solution. That’s another reason for the group’s continued growth throughout the season.
Thank you to Jim Leitner for answering our questions. You can read his coverage of the USHL Dubuque Fighting Saints at https://www.telegraphherald.com/sports/.