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Former Penn State Running Back, NFL Coach Gary Brown Dies

Former Penn State running back and longtime NFL assistant coach Gary Brown died this weekend, according to multiple reports. He was 52.

According to Dallas Cowboys beat writer Clarence Hill Jr., Brown spent several weeks living in hospice care near his home in Williamsport, Pennsylvania. He’d previously been diagnosed with cancer twice, although an exact cause of death remains unclear.

Brown, once a 5’11”, 230-pound back at Penn State, played for the Nittany Lions from 1987 to 1990. In 1988, he ran for a college career-best 689 yards and six touchdowns. The next year, when injured starter Blair Thomas returned as the Nittany Lions’ go-to running back, Brown made a gutsy switch to safety but became a starter himself. He made a memorable effort in the 1989 Holiday Bowl when he took a ball back 53 yards the other way for a touchdown in the game’s final minute, clinching a 50-39 win over BYU.

Brown entered the NFL as an eighth-round pick in the league’s 1991 draft. He played for the Houston Oilers from 1991 to 1995 and later spent time with the San Diego Chargers and New York Giants. In 1998, Brown posted an NFL career-best 1,063 rushing yards and five touchdowns with the G-Men.

After retiring as a player in 1999, Brown stayed involved in football by joining Lycoming College’s program as an offensive coordinator in 2003. He’d later coach at Susquehanna and Rutgers before making the jump back into the NFL.

From 2009 to 2012, Brown served as the Cleveland Browns’ running backs coach. He would later head to Dallas from 2013 to 2019, his longest tenure as a coach, to oversee Cowboys running backs like Ezekiel Elliott and DeMarco Murray.

Most recently, Brown coached Wisconsin’s running backs throughout the 2021-22 season, although health issues forced him to miss the Badgers’ Las Vegas Bowl appearance. Before the season, he told Sports Illustrated that he chose to continue coaching to stand up against cancer.

“When you’re sitting by yourself and you’re alone and you’re thinking about what’s next, you really think about the things that could be taken away,” Brown said. “It’s going to do one of two things to you: It’s going to eat you up and you’re going to fold up and go into a corner and die, or you’re going to fight. My parents raised me to fight.”

In a statement, Wisconsin coach Paul Chryst praised Brown’s character and brief but profound impact on the Badgers’ locker room.

“Though he was only on our staff for a year he had a profound impact on our players and our program,” Chryst said. “We are all better people for having known Gary. He was a tremendous person, a terrific coach, and a joy to be around. He had great energy and passion for life and that showed every day.”

Brown is survived by his wife, Kim, his daughters, Malena and Dorianna, and his son, Tre.

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About the Author

Matt DiSanto

Matt proudly served as Onward State’s managing editor for two years until graduating from Penn State in May 2022. Now, he’s off in the real world doing real things. Send him an email ([email protected]) or follow him on Twitter (@mattdisanto_) to stay in touch.

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