By Bob Beretta
Stan Brock stood inside the coaches’ locker room following a workout deep within the Kimsey Athletic Center’s thick, white walls, just as he had done hundreds of times since joining his mentor, Bobby Ross, on a journey to fix the Army football program.
Less than a television timeout after accepting West Point’s offer to take over its benchmark athletic program, Ross wasted little time reaching out to his former team captain, extended an offer to Brock to become the Black Knights’ new offensive line coach. The pair had been united for the first time years before in the National Football League, when both donned the familiar gold and blue lightening bolt of the San Diego Chargers franchise on their hats, Ross as the field boss responsible for raising a moribund franchise and Brock as one of the final veteran pieces to an intricate plan that delivered January football to a playoff-thirsty community.
And so they had spent the past three years toiling together along the banks of the Hudson, searching for that same magic potion that had propelled a nondescript football city all the way to the Super Bowl. Both were convinced they were on the right track at West Point now, just a few friendly flips of the football from building a won-loss record that would make Red Blaik proud.
That’s why the news Ross suddenly dropped, stopped the old right tackle dead in his tracks, drove him backwards more violently than any bull-rushing defensive end ever could. It was a life-changing moment for both men, only Brock never saw it coming. A vicious shot from his blind side.
“I need you to sit down because I’m going to unload something on you,” Brock remembers Ross saying. Immediately, Brock feared the worst.
Had something happened to, Lori, his longtime partner throughout a life’s voyage heavily sprinkled with football firefights along the way? Thanks to a longtime family friendship, Stan and Lori had met as second-graders back home in Portland. They began dating years later in high school and married during Stan’s sophomore year at the University of Colorado.
If not Lori, maybe something was wrong with one of the couple’s four girls, or one of Stan’s five brothers or two sisters. His heart sunk at the thought of any of those horrible possibilities. Could it be something with his parents, Len and Jean Brock? The rock-solid couple was still living in Portland near several of their children. They were the ones most responsible for shaping the football-loving personalities of the five Brock boys, four of whom didn’t stop leveling opponents until they had landed roster spots in the National Football League. Stan couldn’t bear the thought of anything happening to one of them, either.
“For the life of me I couldn’t figure out what it was,” Brock recalls. “I really thought something had happened to my family, because it was unusual for Coach (to say something like that). Instead, he told me that he was worn out and that he wasn’t going to coach anymore. He had recommended to the (USMA) Superintendent and to (Army Director of Athletics) Kevin Anderson that they talk to me about being the next head coach at Army.”
As the shocking words tumbled from Ross’ lips, Brock was relieved and stunned at the very same time.
“At first, I asked him if he was sure that he wanted to retire, and he said that he was; that he had made up his mind,” Brock says. “Then he assured me that I was ready to take over. I had my own doubts, but it was nice to hear him say that I was ready. I love coach Ross and think the world of him. To have him tell me that I was ready to be a head coach was very important.”
Less than an hour later, Brock found himself driving to the home of Lt. Gen. Buster Hagenbeck, en route to a meeting with West Point’s 57th superintendent. During the short trip down to the general’s house, Brock’s cell phone rang. It was Lori. She had just arrived at nearby Stewart Airport on a return flight from Oregon. Stan was supposed to meet her at the airport. Now she was calling to see if her husband was nearby.
“She called and asked, Are you outside (the airport)? When I told her that coach Ross had resigned and that I was standing outside Gen. Hagenbeck’s house and he was going to talk to me about being the next head coach ... there was a little bit of a shockwave going on there.”
After telling Lori that he had sent someone else to pick her up, Brock said goodbye and headed into the historical home just off “The Plain,” headed straight into a date with destiny.
“When I went inside, Gen. Hagenbeck spoke for a while and asked if I would become the 35th head coach at Army. A lot of things ran through my mind. There was a bit of self-doubt Am I truly ready?’ The responsibility you have to 200 players in the program, 4,000 cadets in the Corps and the millions of troops that wear U.S. Army’ on their shirt ... This is really their team, their university, if you will. That is a lot of responsibility.”
* * *
For someone whose life seemed so perfectly patterned to lead men on a football field, a career in coaching never stole a piece of Stan Brock’s soul. Shortly after joining older brother Pete in becoming the second brother tandem to be selected in the first round of the National Football League draft (the Olsen brothers, Merlin and Marv, were the first), Stan became the face of the New Orleans Saints organization. He spent 13 grueling years in that familiar role, punched an automatic induction ticket to the Saints’ Hall of Fame in 1998 and was a unanimous choice to its All-40th Anniversary Team a few years later.
Stan had followed big brother Pete to Colorado, then re-traced Pete’s footsteps all the way to the sport’s stratosphere. Both were selected with the 12th overall pick of the NFL draft. They remain the only brother combination ever chosen with the same selection in the first round, Stan in 1980 by the Saints and Pete four years earlier by the New England Patriots. Brothers Willlie (two years older) and Ray (four years younger) also earned membership cards in Sunday’s League, Willie with the Detroit Lions and Ray with the Kansas City Chiefs.
Ironically, all four benefitted from the teachings of the same line coach George Belu. Now a scout with the Arizona Cardinals, Belu was Colorado’s offensive line coach during the Black and Gold-coated tenures of Pete, Willie and Stan, then moved on to Louisiana State University, where he tutored Ray, the youngest member of the Brock’s gridrion quartet.
While Pete was whacking a path deep into the Patriots’ history book during a marvelous 12-year march through Foxboro that culminated in his selection to New England’s Team of the Century in 1986, Stan carved a similar swath down in the Gulf.
He was an All-Rookie choice in 1980 and went on to play in 186 games for New Orleans, a figure that still ranks fourth on the Saints’ all-time list. At one point, Stan made 67 consecutive starts, anchored an offensive line that allowed a league-low 15 sacks in 1992. During his final six years in New Orleans, the Saints compiled an overall record of 66-32 (.673). This from a sad-sack franchise that had popped up on “Blooper” reels much more than playoff packages before Brock ever stepped foot inside the Superdome.
Due in large part to the strong lobbying of Ross, who had valued Brock’s leadership from the opposite side of the midfield logo for several years, Brock signed a free-agent contract with San Diego in 1993. During their first year together, the duo helped deliver the Chargers deep into the cold of winter, an AFC championship and the franchise’s first Super Bowl showing standing as the cherished reward for their painstaking efforts.
“From the moment I met Stan, I’ve known him as a leader,” asserts John Tice, who spent 10 years alongside Brock as a tight end with the Saints and became the Black Knights’ offensive line coach in February. “We had some good players on our team, but Stan stood out as the overall leader of the team, somebody you would want to be like. He was a professional and he knew how to get things done.
“He’s physically one of the toughest guys I’ve been around. Overall, as far as his leadership abilities, from the day you walked in to the locker room, you knew it was his team. And on a team that possessed a lot of really good players, he was a guy that took control. Playing right next to him, you knew he was somebody that was always going to be mentally prepared and was always going to come out and physically give everything he had.”
Upon his retirement in 1995, Brock completely disappeared from the white-hot spotlight that had trailed him for nearly two decades in the NFL.
“I did nothing but hunt and fish for a whole year,” says Brock, whose prized catch from that relaxing time a 62-pound King Salmon hangs mounted above his desk in the Kimsey Center. “I’d drop the girls off at school with my boat behind my truck and go salmon fishing. But I drove Lori crazy. She was used to me being gone all the time, so it was a bit of a transition for her, too.”
Through one of his associates, Brock began providing football commentary for a local television station. That led to work on the local all-sports radio station, which in turn paved an express lane straight back to the sidelines.
“I was doing color on the radio for the Portland Forest Dragons of the Arena League, and they had gotten off to an 0-7 start. The owner called and asked if I’d meet him for dinner after one of the games. I figured that he was going to tell me that he was going to fire the coach and ask me if I could recommend someone for the position.
“So we’re at dinner and he tells me he’s going to make a coaching change. I’m sitting there nodding my head, because that is what I expected him to say. Well, the next words out of his mouth were, We’d like you to be the new head coach.’ I was still nodding my head, because I was sure he was going to say something else ... what he actually said didn’t register at first. I stopped nodding my head and said, You’re going to have to repeat that again.’ I had never even considered that as a possibility.”
Brock accepted the position, remained in Portland as head coach and general manager for two more years, then moved on to fill the same role with the expansion Los Angeles Avengers of the Arena League.
“About two weeks after starting with Portland, I knew coaching was what I wanted to do,” Brock says in strong, confident tones, an unbridled passion for the job filling his voice. “I was totally addicted to it. I love looking into the players’ eyes and watching the light go on when you teach them things. I really didn’t know anything about coaching or the Arena League, but I spent the whole offseason learning both.”
To accomplish that, Brock lured one of his old coaches from Boulder, Bob Cortese, to become the Forest Dragons’ offensive coordinator and Brock’s personal coaching instructor.
“That’s how we did it,” Brock explains. “He didn’t know anything about the Arena League and, really, neither did I. So we spent the whole offseason learning Arena Football and I spent every day in his office taking Coaching 101' in order to learn how to be a coach.”
He stayed in Portland for two years, then moved on to L.A. After two years with the Avengers, Brock returned home to Portland and began a private business with a close, personal friend. The wildfire protection system they started, Firebreak Spray Systems, became a fast success, so it was with great inner conflict that he considered Ross’ offer to join him at Army.
The old right tackle had painfully declined a similar offer from Ross several years earlier. As the newly appointed head coach and general manager of the Detroit Lions, Ross came calling for his former team leader once again, but the timing could not have been worse. Just weeks before, Brock had accepted the position with Los Angeles. He didn’t feel right leaving the fledgling franchise so suddenly.
“As much as I wanted to accept the offer, I couldn’t do that to the owner and the fans of this new team,” Brock remembers. “Friends were calling me and saying that I had committed coaching suicide, that I had passed up a golden opportunity and that I would never get into the NFL. But at least I could sleep at night. I stuck to my word.”
While the timing of Ross’ first offer was not perfect, the positioning of this latest request to join him at West Point was hardly ideal. Brock and his partner, Jim Aamodt had kicked off their business only months earlier. In fact, when Ross called to offer the job, Brock was on a ladder in California, installing one of his company’s new systems. But after discussing the situation with Aamodt, both agreed it was an opportunity Brock simply could not dismiss.
“I came out to take a look and within 24 hours I told Coach Ross I would do it,” Brock remembers, his voice racing with excitement. “I fell in love with the place as soon as I got here.”
Named to succeed Ross three years later, Brock quickly assembled his new staff, continued a detailed recruiting plan and prepared thoroughly for spring practice. Any self-doubts that lingered quickly disappeared after experiencing the faith his players had placed in him.
“He’s a great motivator,” says Army starting center Trey Miranne. “He’s always real positive, real upbeat, and that carries over to the team. He’s a tremendous teacher. Obviously, 16 years of NFL experience is something that just automatically commands a lot of respect, especially from us.”
“It’s important that the players respect me,” Brock stresses. “They don’t have to like me but they have to respect me. I really believe that respect has to be earned, and I believe that I have earned their respect. I’m proud of that. It goes back to my parents and all the coaches I had as a player. They’ve all had a part in my development as a person and as a coach.
“I’m a long way from perfect, but I believe in hard work, in putting your hand in the dirt. You can solve every problem by putting your hand in the dirt. All that means is you’ve got to go to work. You may whip me, but you’d better bring a sack lunch and a jug of water because it’s gong to be an all-day event. And I believe that I can jump over the moon. I hope this team takes all those aspects of my personality. Growing up, my dad always taught us to do our very best in whatever we did. If you do your very best, that’s all you can do.”
And what is his vision for the Army football program? Exactly what you’d expect from a blue-collar warrior who places a great premium on character, loyalty and above all else, an honest day’s work.
“My goal is to bring the pride of Army Football back to where our players can stand up and say they play Army Football and they can say it with their shoulders back and chest out ... and be very proud of that fact. I want members of the Corps of Cadets to be able to say they attend the U.S. Military Academy and are a big part of Army Football and its success.
“My former coach in New Orleans, Bum Phillips, often said that hard work and good times come together, but hard work comes first. Bum preached that to us and I truly believe it. I believe that we will go out and work very, very hard, but when it’s time to have fun, we can have a lot of fun.”
Hard work and good fun. Exactly what Stan Brock had in mind that January day after he accepted the offer to become Army’s 35th head coach. Exactly what he had in mind after the locker-room conversation he least expected changed the course of his life forever.
A blind-side shot he was happy to receive.