Holy Cross is a good fit for Milan Brown

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Last winter's record snows in Maryland irritated Milan Brown no end. Practice, travel and game schedules for his Mount St. Mary's basketball team seemed to shift hourly.

Months later, Brown views the experience not as inconvenient but as preparation for his new job: head coach at Holy Cross in suburban Boston.

"People here say I need to learn how to use a snowblower," Brown said with a laugh.

A Kecoughtan High graduate, Brown had no use for such skills growing up in Hampton, or while working as an assistant coach at Old Dominion and William and Mary. The Northeast promises seismic changes — meteorological and professional.

"It's such a good opportunity," Brown said of Holy Cross. "Such a strong basketball tradition, and obviously the academic reputation. It's a step up for me but not a huge jump."

The Crusaders — Bob Cousy is their most renowned alum — compete in the Patriot League, award a full complement of scholarships and earned four NCAA tournament bids from 2001-07 under Ralph Willard. But they were 9-22 this past season, setting a school record for defeats and costing rookie head coach Sean Kearney his job.

Brown, 39, served as the Mount St. Mary's head coach for seven seasons, compiling a 95-120 overall record that is far better than it sounds. He inherited a program damaged by four consecutive losing seasons and compounded the challenge by scheduling ambitiously.

The Mountaineers' performance in the Northeast Conference — 11-7 or better four of the last five years — and 2008 NCAA tournament appearance are far better barometers of Brown's stewardship. Still, he was not among Holy Cross athletic director Dick Regan Jr.'s short list of candidates.

Regan wanted a sitting head coach, a program-builder. The more colleagues he consulted, the more he learned about Brown.

"I really didn't know much about him," Regan said. "He had a losing record, but when you realize the state of the program when he took over, and what he did over the years, you start to look closer at it.

"Then you see some of the teams he had to play. He won 16 games (16-15 overall) last season and played four teams (Georgetown, Old Dominion, Pittsburgh and Siena) ranked in the top 35. Against our schedule he probably would have won 18-20 games easily."

Not interested in testimonials from Brown's friends, Regan sought what he called "neutral opinions." Among those he spoke with: Vermont coach Mike Lonergan and George Mason athletic director Tom O'Connor.

Lonergan's Catamounts defeated Mount St. Mary's last season 71-69. As chairman of the NCAA selection committee in 2008, O'Connor sat at the scorer's table, less than 10 feet from Brown, during the Mountaineers' opening-round victory over Coppin State.

"You never know who's watching," Brown said.

"I'm doing what my dad always told me to do, 'Keep your nose clean, treat people the right way and everything else will work out.'"

Brown's parents, Charlie and Pam, still live in Hampton and espouse those values. Indeed, Regan sensed an inherent goodness in Brown when they met.

Regan flew to Maryland on April 11 and interviewed Brown for three hours as they relaxed outside at a coffee shop. Three days later, Brown toured the Worcester campus, met university officials and accepted the position.

"I liked him personally and I liked his philosophy," Regan said. "I had a gut feeling that out of the blue I had found the perfect fit."

Then came the hard part for Brown: telling his Mount St. Mary's team.

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