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May 19, 2004

By RUSTY MILLER
The Associated Press

COLUMBUS, Ohio – Jim Brown has spent 31 seasons wearing a scarlet windbreaker and a scowl as Ohio State’s men’s golf coach.

Despite a legacy of success – his Buckeyes have won 17 Big Ten titles and the 1979 national championship, and 16 of his players have gone on to the PGA Tour – it takes a lot for a smile to crack Brown’s frosty visage.

Yet here he was after a recent team meeting, a 60-year-old acting happy to be on the receiving end of a good-natured hazing ritual. He was surrounded by teenagers and 20-something players running electric clippers through his already sparse hair. And he was laughing out loud.

“He does not act his age,” senior Zach Doran said, shaking his head as he watched the amateur barbers at work.

These days Brown is savoring what passes for a turnaround season. It had been seven years since the Buckeyes won a Big Ten title before their victory 10 days ago at Brown’s least favorite venue, the University of Michigan. Brown promised his players that if they won the league title, he would submit to a haircut.

There had been whispers that Brown had lost touch with his younger players, that he couldn’t recruit from today’s hip-hop generation, that Ohio State’s glittering golf tradition was in decline.

“We weren’t supposed to win it,” said Brown, whose team had finished seventh in the Big Ten just two years ago. “We were just another team.”

Just another team? The program that was home to some of the most acclaimed players ever? The school that churned out Jack Nicklaus, Tom Weiskopf, John Cook and Joey Sindelar – who won on tour as recently as two weeks ago?

The whispers had grown louder in recent years. In Brown’s first 20 years as head coach, Ohio State players finished first or second in the Big Ten every year. Then the rest of the league caught up, building designer home courses and recruiting players from the far corners of the globe. “I wouldn’t say there has been a falloff talentwise,” Ohio State junior Scott Anderson said. “I would say that the athletes themselves the past couple of years haven’t been playing to their potential. It was tough for him. The guys on the team talked about that.”

Brown’s latest conference champion was built on one incredible effort and a solid supporting cast. Kevin Hall had a spectacular weekend to win the medalist race by 11 strokes. Fellow seniors Brett Williams and Doran, Anderson and freshman Nate Strong also played well. Brown was voted the Big Ten coach of the year for a third time.

“It seems like the other championship teams always had maybe three even four really good players. I know when we won it three years in a row in the ’90s, they were all good players. Back in the ’70s, I could send them out and I didn’t know who was going to be low. The fifth man could be low and that wouldn’t surprise anybody,” Brown said.

“Maybe we’re not as deep this year, but they just played their hearts out. I couldn’t ask for any more.”

It couldn’t have come at a better time or place for Brown, who doesn’t hide his hatred for Michigan. That feeling stems from his playing days at Ohio State – he lettered three seasons in basketball while the captain of the golf team from 1962-65.

Times have changed in collegiate golf. Brown has barely budged.

Only two head coaches have ever served Ohio State longer, swimming’s Mike Peppe (34 years) and Herman Wirthwein in men’s tennis (33). Brown recently signed a new three-year contract that could push him even with Peppe.

As he scanned the list of coaches with the longest tenures at Ohio State, Brown was asked if there was a time when he didn’t think he would survive.

“When I first took the job,” he said. “I was just trying to do the best I could and I was so happy to come back to Ohio State.”

Eleven times the Brown-led Buckeyes have placed in the nation’s top 10 at the national championships. They play this week at the regional in West Lafayette, Ind., where they hope to qualify for the national finals in Hot Springs, Va.

Their coach will join them, softened by his many years on the job. He’ll be wearing a buzz haircut and, of all things, a smile.