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The Estes Way

Monday, January 26, 2009

Courtesy of Gordon Morton '93,
Brown Alumni Magazine

Photo Credit: Scott Kingsley

One of these seasons the pundits are going to figure it out. Last fall, they chose the Brown football team to finish third in the league. Instead, the Bears won their second Ivy championship in four years and their third since 1999. What did all these teams have in common? Head Coach Phil Estes, who has been gradually putting up numbers that make him arguably the best football coach in the school's history.

Until Estes arrived on College Hill eleven years ago, Brown had won only a single Ivy League title in forty-two seasons. In fact, its Ivy peers did not take the Brown football program seriously until Mark Whipple '79 arrived in 1994. Up to that point, the Bears had accumulated a combined Ivy record of 132-211-10, for a winning percentage of .388.

During Whipple's four years as head coach, the Bears went 24-16. When Estes took over in 1998, he did even better, winning fifty games more quickly than any coach in Brown history, even the legendary John Anderson, who led the Bears from 1973 to 1983 and coached them to their first Ivy title in 1976.

In addition, thanks to Estes's versatile offensive approach, his teams scored 1,000 points faster than those of any coach in Ivy League football history. In Estes's first thirty-two games as head coach, his teams scored 1,022 points, for an average of 31.9 points per game. Overall, Estes has posted a 66-43 record (a .605 winning percentage) and an Ivy League mark of 47-29 (.618). No one in modern Brown football history has been able to approach this level of success.

Although Estes's first season, 1998, did not begin well -- the team dropped three of its first four games -- the Bears won their final six games to finish second in the league.

Then, in 1999, Estes's second year, his team won its first title since 1976 with a 9-1 overall record and a 6- Ivy mark. (Curiously, the 1976 and 1999 Ivy records were identical, and the title was shared both times with Yale.)

"The first championship," Estes recalls, "was just one of those things where you were in awe because it hadn't been done in so long. You saw the appreciation of alums, of players, of administrators. Everybody got involved. They tore the goalposts down. It was like something that had never happened before."

Estes admits that the early success overwhelmed him. "I felt I could just crumble to my knees and take it all in and enjoy it," he says. "I was so happy for so many people that I had heard from who didn't believe that Brown was ever going to get back on track."

To read Morton's complete account of the Bears' head man, check out the Brown Alumni Magazine.

- A.S.