Sitting in an office decorated with Brown memorabilia, wearing an Ivy B polo and balancing a matching mug on his knee, James Perry ’00 embodies all that it means to be the Bears’ newest head football coach.
He spoke enthusiastically about the new offense, defense and special teams which are guaranteed to be “fast” if nothing else. He pointed out photos on the walls — snapshots of his family, an old picture of him with teammates and his former coach and predecessor Phil Estes, who stepped down at the end of last season. Helmets signed by alums playing in the NFL sit above his desk.
But a year ago, Perry was in a different office, sporting the gold and black of Bryant University, the opponent Brown will face Saturday as it kicks off this new era.
The transition, though dramatic from an outsider’s perspective given the unusual circumstances, was smooth for the Bears’ former quarterback. Perry has firsthand knowledge of life as an Ivy League athlete and boasts the conference clout to prove his philosophies can result in high-scoring, championship-winning teams. His resume includes two Ivy League titles at Brown — one as a record-setting player in 1999 and the other as a QB coach in 2008 — and two from his seven-year stint as offensive coordinator at Princeton.
Now he’s bringing his unconventional offense, commitment to conditioning and condensed practices to College Hill in hopes of revitalizing a program that hasn’t beaten a conference foe in 1,042 days.
The team that Perry inherited in December wasn’t fit to play the game he had in mind, so a complete overhaul was in order. Player development got pushed to the forefront of the rebuilding efforts. Nutrition, sleep schedules and recovery methods were emphasized, and an analytics team was assembled to pore over the stats. Everything zeroed in on preparing all positions to play as fast as possible.
“His whole philosophy comes down to speeding the game up, always being quick, getting us in the best shape … we can possibly be (in),” said co-captain Michael Hoecht ’20. “It’s a different style of football than we’ve seen in the past, so it’s been interesting. … He’s been pretty good at transitioning us into that … so that was the whole offseason — getting us ready athletically in order to perform for his new style of running the program.”
Perry knows his high-speed approach “is a little bit radical” compared to the typical football model, but he doesn’t consider himself “a lone wolf” because of that style. It’s the way his players line up that sets him apart from the pack.
Watch carefully when Brown takes the field against Bryant. Blink and you could miss Perry’s trademark offense: two quarterbacks in position to make a play. This would be considered a trick play by teams that subscribe to the one-QB mindset, but it is now the Bears’ base offense. With a crowded quarterback room that only got more competitive by the addition of Boston College transfer EJ Perry ’21, Bruno is well equipped to put on a three-ring QB circus if the look is there.
If it sounds confusing, unusual and chaotic, it’s meant to. As coach Perry says, “the more chaos, the better.”
Despite the commitment to embrace unconventionality, both Hoecht and co-captain Nick Allsop ’20 feel the Bears are more organized and equipped to outlast opponents than in previous seasons.
“Not a single person is going to be returning for us. Either they’re going to be replaced by somebody better or replaced by a better version of themselves,” Hoecht said. “It’s going to be a very different result, and we’re going to be a much more competitive team this year.”
They see this year as a “revenge tour,” an opportunity to take down each of the seven Ivies that they couldn’t beat during the last two seasons.
“(Perry) cuts out all the bullshit,” Allsop said. “He says we don’t need any ‘Rudy’ speeches or anything like that. We came here to play (and) win, and that’s how we’re going to do it.”
The first opportunity to seek vengeance is at Harvard Sept. 27.
But before that, Brown will travel to Beirne Stadium, the home of Perry’s former team. The last time the Bears and the Bulldogs faced off, Bruno prevailed 28-23. It was 2017 and Perry’s first year as a head coach. Bragging rights are at stake every time these Ocean State rivals meet on the field, but this season there’s an added animosity because of Perry’s decision to return to his alma mater.
Allsop isn’t fazed by the hostile environment.
“Going into Bryant, we’ve been hearing a lot about them, how they hate us,” he said. “Block that out. We’re just going to go punch them in the face and continue from there.”