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Phil Estes steps down after 21 seasons as head football coach

Estes leaves the Bears after two consecutive seasons without a conference win

Senior Reporter
Monday, November 19, 2018

Two days after the football team capped a second consecutive season without an Ivy League win, Head Coach Phil Estes stepped down from his position after 21 seasons Monday, according to a press release from Brown Athletics. The Bears finished 1-9 in 2018 and 2-8 in 2017 after losing 15 straight conference games over the past three seasons.

Players were informed of Estes’ departure this morning via an email, in which he thanked them for their hard work and commitment to the program.

“There’s always a lot of talk, but you never really expect something this big to happen so fast,” said starting quarterback Michael McGovern ’21. “Everybody was kind of caught off guard. It was definitely a shock when we all got that email this morning.”

The team has not yet met to discuss what Estes’ departure means for the program, but plans to do so after Thanksgiving break. Though he will be an alum when the Bears take the field under new direction next season, Co-captain Anton Casey ’19 voiced expectations about changes to the team.

“As sad as it is to see the coaches that you had for three years leave, the football team needs restructuring,” Casey said. “A coach that can really discipline the guys who are going to play on the team next year is really necessary, because the team needs to get on one page and really bond to one common goal, which is to win.”

Prior to the 2017 season, Estes had never finished last in Ivy League rankings. In 21 seasons, he recorded 115 victories and three conference titles, and concluded his tenure as the second-winningest coach in Brown football history.

Estes “built a truly exceptional record, not just for Brown football, but more importantly for the generations of student-athletes who came to Brown passionate about playing the game,” said Director of Athletics Jack Hayes in the press release. 

“Brown University took a chance on me more than two decades ago, and the rest is history,” Estes said in the release. “I’m deeply grateful to Brown for the opportunity to have coached this team and so many outstanding players. Brown has been a wonderful home for me and for my family.”

Estes took over the program in 1998 and achieved early success, winning a conference championship in his second year. But after finishing the 2016 season fourth in the league, the Bears struggled to compete with Ivy opponents. The team won its most recent conference championship in 2008 and hovered near the middle of the pack until falling to the bottom a year ago.

Current student-athletes who played through two straight last-place seasons are looking forward to how new leadership will reshape the program.

“We haven’t won a lot of games, and there’s definitely some wounds that need to be healed,” said Co-captain Michael Hoecht ’20. “We’re all going to really miss (Estes). He’s done wonders for this program and I can’t say enough good things about him. But moving forward, it’s going to be important that this new coach is able to sort of unify this team and sort of steer us in the right direction.”

The outcome the Bears are hoping for is clear: a winning season and a shot at restoring the program to its former glory. With a young roster and a fresh staff, McGovern is confident that the climb back to the top isn’t impossible.

“We have a lot of talent on our team,” McGovern said. “We’re all ready to work as hard as we can to make sure that happens. Once we get our new head coach and we fully buy into what he’s doing, I fully believe that as long as we stay dedicated and true to ourselves and stay close together as a family, then we definitely have a lot of potential to turn the program around.”

Hayes said in the release that the search for a new head coach will begin immediately. Hoecht said that players are typically kept “out of the loop” until those hires are made by the Athletics Administration, but the co-captain thinks the transition will be smooth.

“We’re players who play for coaches, and that’s up to the administration to make the right decisions,” Hoecht said. “Ultimately, I think a lot of guys will follow whoever we get because at the end of the day, we want to win, and in order to win you’ve got to buy into your head coach.”

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  1. Time to get an entire new coaching staff.

  2. Brown football and many of Brown’s teams are not competitive within the Ivy League for myriad reasons. A new coach and staff will not be a panacea. Estes went public recently with his disappointment in the lack of cooperation from the admissions office. Athletic funding (both from donors and from the university) remains at the bottom of the Ivy League. Coaches’ salaries, available endowment capital to fund grants to students in order to relieve, if not eliminate, student loans, facilities, and the relative lack of institutional support are other key issues, all of which detrimentally affect recruiting effectiveness. It’s not an easy fix when you’re competing against better-funded schools that choose to excel in athletics (as well as academics).

    • I don’t think anyone is saying a new coach is a panacea However, the fall off in the past 3 years plus going public with criticism of the administration was probably too much to ignore. There certainly is truth in many of your points, but note that the Brown Promise eliminates all student loans for Brown students. Also, Football team rooms and locker rooms were recent recipient of major gift that allowed for significant renovation and upgrades. Eventually unless you are Bellicheck or Saban, coaching change is inevitable and a new coach may be needed to bring a fresh perspective.

      • The fall-off in football and Brown’s athletic competitiveness, generally, started long before 3 years ago. The mediocre, if not woeful, records of many teams are there for all to see. Athletic recruiting spots were reduced under Ruth Simmons, donor athletic funding remains at the bottom of the league, facilities, though improved in certain areas, are mostly inferior to league peers (e.g., hockey, squash (the current 5-court facility is inferior to that of virtually every northeast prep school, let alone the other Ivies’ squash facilities), tennis, indoor practice facilities for lacrosse/baseball/softball). The admission office apparently offers little cooperation with, at least, the football program (and, if that’s the case, it’s undoubtedly also true of other sports). And, there seems to be little evidence of institutional commitment to taking decisive steps to reverse the precipitous slide that many of Brown’s teams have seen over the past decade and more. Maybe the football team’s historic 15-game Ivy losing streak will serve as a wake-up call.

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