Philly's New England sports connection

Posted: August 14, 2013

IF YOU start to notice an increase in the number of people wearing flannel shirts and L.L. Bean duck boots around the Delaware Valley this autumn, don't be alarmed. Three of our four Philadelphia professional head coaches have eaten far more steamers and lobsters than they have cheesesteaks and soft pretzels, which is another way of saying they originally hail from New England.

But while Peter Laviolette came here with a lengthy resume as a pro coach that included a championship at this level, Chip Kelly and new Sixers coach Brett Brown bring with them only anticipation - and anxiety.

Until he burst onto the national scene at Oregon, Kelly was an offensive coordinator at the University of New Hampshire, happily dissecting film, sleeping on people's cots and in cheap hotels as he visited and learned from other teams and programs in the offseason, all on the kind of salary they start recent college graduates these days.

The career track of new Sixers coach Brett Brown suggests a similar set of priorities. An NBA head coach for the first time at 52, Brown is actually 3 years older than Kelly, and his stops have taken him from Boston to Australia to San Antonio and now here. But as anyone from up there can attest, you might leave the place, but the place never leaves you.

The northern New England coaching fraternity is filled with alliances that cross over both states and sports. Paul Gorham, for example, was a teammate of Brown's when South Portland High went 29-0 in his senior season and won the state championship. Gorham later was a graduate assistant football coach at New Hampshire when Kelly played there, and later the two served as assistants together.

And the Sports Illustrated reporter who broke the story that Brown is the next Sixers coach? Well, there's a big photo of Chip Kelly's "East Coast Ducks" posse on the wall of "The Rusty Hammer" in Portsmouth, N.H.

Ian Thomsen is in that photo.

Small world? You bet. When Gorham nearly died from a rare lung disease last year (he lost both legs and needed a transplant), Brown and Kelly rallied to his side. A website was started, benefits were held. Kelly and best friend Mike Zamarchi, Marshwood High's basketball coach, amped up an annual charity golf tournament in Berwick, Maine, to help with the medical bills.

Zamarchi played three seasons for Bob Brown - Brett's father - at the University of Southern Maine. Now in his mid-70s, Bob Brown is a Maine icon who finally retired from coaching in 2012 - after 52 years. In between highly successful and highly rewarding coaching gigs at seven Southern Maine high schools, Brown assisted Rick Pitino at Boston University (while his son played there), turned around the program at Division II St. Anselm's College, then went back to BU as the head man, where he lost more than he won over four seasons.

Bob is known as a fundamentals guru and an innovator, appearing at clinics around the globe with such sages as Dean Smith.

"Bob set the bar for coaches in the state," Zamarchi said when he retired. "He was better prepared than any coach you went against."

As a point guard, his son was lauded for his preparation and vision, which carried into his coaching. As a Spurs assistant, he has been credited with honing Tony Parker's game and accelerating Manu Ginobili's adjustment to the NBA game. Parker's scoring average went from 9.2 to 15.5 during the first season he worked with Brown.

"He is as bright a young coach as I've seen come along in quite some time," Pitino told the Portland Press Herald recently. "I hope it's the right situation, because he's a tremendous, tremendous person."

Is it? Really, it's the same question posed for Kelly. Both men face serious roster rebuilding at the professional level. Both men have been given multiyear deals to allow for some fermentation - Kelly 5 years, Brown's for a reported four seasons.

In the short term, what, me worry? Kelly can't possibly mess up the Eagles any more than they appeared messed up when the last football season ended. And what's Brown going to do? Make the Sixers less relevant? That, truly, would be a miracle.

These are the right moves if for no other reason than this: Desperate times call for desperate measures. And for now all we really know is this:

Kelly is a head NFL coach for the first time at age 49 not because he lacks passion for the game, but perhaps because he has too much of it. Whether it was an offer to join the New York Giants staff or the University of Connecticut staff, Kelly turned down job offers that may have advanced his career sooner. According to reports and interviews at the time, he feared a loss of the autonomy afforded him as the New Hampshire offensive coordinator, and the ability to teach the game directly as he saw it.

He gets that license here, as will Brown. It also may be true that Brown is a head NBA coach for the first time because, like Kelly, he is a teacher first, capitalist second. Both seem to love the game as much or more than the glory it bestows upon those who succeed in it.

But seem is a fickle and dangerous word. For now the only certainty these moves bring is that we will have a couple more Red Sox fans among us, a couple more guys who don't need crackers to rip the meat from their lobsters.


Email: donnels@phillynews.com

On Twitter: @samdonnellon

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