September 25, 2010
By David Driver
For the Springfield Republican
Used with permission
Clarence Brooks, an all-conference offensive lineman for UMass in the early 1970s, got his start as a coach for the Minutemen in 1976.
He worked on the offensive side of the ball for head coach Dick MacPherson, a native of Maine who was elected to the College Football Hall of Fame in 2009.
Brooks had not been on the UMass staff very long when a coaching spot opened up with the defensive line.
“Coach MacPherson put me where he needed me,” said Brooks, an offensive guard from 1970-72 who graduated from New Bedford High. “He put me on the defensive line and I am still there.”
More than 30 years later, Brooks, who graduated from UMass with a degree in sociology, is plying his trade at the highest level. He is in his sixth season as the defensive line coach for the Baltimore Ravens, a franchise known for its hard-knocking defense.
“No question. There is pride here, a pride in everything we do,” said Brooks, leaning against the team’s headquarters in suburban Baltimore County following a recent morning practice. “It is a blessing to be a part of it.”
Baltimore, 1-1 this season, hosts Cleveland on Sunday in its home opener.
Brooks, 59, was one of six assistant coaches who were retained by head coach John Harbaugh when he took over before the 2008 season. The Ravens have made the playoffs the first two years under Harbaugh. Paul Kruger, a second-year Ravens’ defensive end out of the University of Utah, said of Brooks: “He is a great coach. For a lot of the guys he is a mentor in a lot of ways. He is more of a players’ coach than a dictator.”
One of his pupils, Haloti Ngata, has developed into an All-Pro defensive tackle in his fifth season out of the University of Oregon.
The Brooks family provided another addition to the Harbaugh coaching staff prior to the 2009 season when Jason Brooks, who was born in Amherst in 1978, was named an assistant to the offense. The son of Clarence, Jason Brooks graduated from Middle Tennessee State and had worked for Norwich University, the Miami Dolphins and Middle Tennessee as a coach before he was hired by the Ravens.
“It has been outstanding. It has been a blessing,” Clarence Brooks said. “You never think that way, think that is going to happen. I wasn’t even sure if he was going to get into football. I knew he had a passion for it but I didn’t think he had that much. We are thankful that a job came open here. He interviewed for it and I am thankful coach Harbaugh hired him. It is a joy. We don’t know how long we will be working together. Things happen and people move on (in the NFL). It is a joy to work with him.”
Brooks admits that some could look at the hire as a case of family connections. “I know it can be, but in this situation he was hired because he was the best guy for the job,” said the elder Brooks.
Clarence Brooks broke into the NFL due in large part to a league minority coaching fellowship program he took part in with the Dallas Cowboys in 1989, during the end of an eight-year tenure as a coach at Syracuse alongside MacPherson. “That was my big break. I had a chance to work with the Dallas Cowboys and work with Dave Wannstedt. A few years later (in 1993) he gets the job with the Bears and he called me up and asked if I was interested. I had a chance to prove myself and get a chance to work in the league. I joined the NFL and I have been here ever since.” Wannstedt is now the head coach at the University of Pittsburgh.
Brooks had been a defensive line coach with the University of Arizona from 1990-92; in his last season, the team led the nation in scoring defense. Brooks was with Chicago from 1993-98, then spent the 1999 season with Cleveland as the defensive line coach. He was with the Miami Dolphins from 2000-04, then joined the staff of the Ravens in time for the 2005 season. Baltimore has ranked among the top defenses in the NFL throughout his tenure.
Brooks said UMass was the clear choice for him out of New Bedford High, where he lettered in football and ran track. “I figured maybe I would be a high school teacher and coach. I think that is as far as I wanted to go with it. UMass was a good spot for me and I had a great four years there. I wouldn’t trade those four years for anything else,” he said.
Brooks still has a connection to the current UMass coaching staff. The offensive coordinator for the Minutemen is Brian Picucci, whom Brooks recruited and coached while at Syracuse. Picucci is a 1994 graduate of Syracuse.
“He is a great guy,” Picucci said of Brooks. “My mother loved him. He had an impact on me. He will get on you on the field. Off the field he is a real nice guy.”
Brooks was with the Ravens when they traveled to Cincinnati for a game against the Bengals on Sept. 19. But he was able to follow the UMass game at Michigan in which the Minutemen nearly pulled off an upset. “I kept up with the game on my phone. I was very interested to see how they were doing. It looks like they played well. Those guys do a great job,” he said of head coach Kevin Morris and his staff.