Corey Brown wasn’t sure what he wanted to do next when he went unselected in the 2014 NFL draft and his career playing football came to an end.
Four years later, however, Brown’s passion for the sport has brought him back to the football field, and that’s where he expects to be for many years to come.
A safety for Ohio State from 2009-13, Brown had a tryout with his hometown Pittsburgh Steelers in 2014 but never played in an NFL regular-season game, thrusting him into the real world without a clear career path. Brown spent time working in management for the supermarket chain Giant Eagle, while also exploring jobs in real estate and sales. Eventually, though, Brown decided he wanted to be a football coach.
"After my playing career, I just had to step away from the game for a second, just to see exactly what I wanted to do in life and what I wanted to be my career," Brown said. "And I finally figured out that I wanted to get back to coaching and be around football, and once I got back around it, I fell in love with it again."
Upon that realization, Brown called Terry Smith – his former coach at Gateway High School, and now the assistant head coach and cornerbacks coach at Penn State – who recommended that Brown visit the website Football Scoop to search for openings. As it turned out, Slippery Rock University – a Division II school in western Pennsylvania, about 60 miles north of Pittsburgh – was looking for a graduate assistant to coach defensive backs, and Smith recommended Brown to Slippery Rock head coach Shawn Lutz.
Brown got the job, and after a year as a graduate assistant, he now has a master’s degree and is The Rock’s full-time defensive backs coach.
"I would have gone anywhere, but it just happened to favor me in my situation, because Slippery Rock’s an hour from my house," Brown told Eleven Warriors. "So it was a perfect distance for me to get going and get my feet wet."
“I finally figured out that I wanted to get back to coaching and be around football, and once I got back around it, I fell in love with it again.”– Corey Brown
In his first year as a coach, Brown says the biggest things he learned were how to connect with his players, getting them to buy in and get the most out of them. After playing for one of the most prominent and profitable college football programs in the country, Brown also had to learn how to work and recruit with fewer resources at the Division II level.
Brown felt prepared to be a coach, though, because of the coaches he learned from as a player, including Smith but also including Urban Meyer, Jim Tressel, Everett Withers, Kerry Coombs and Taver Johnson at Ohio State. Brown also said that Lutz, as well as the rest of Slippery Rock’s coaching staff, have done a great job showing him the ropes.
Having played at Ohio State has helped Brown as a coach, he said, not only because of what he learned being a Buckeye but also because it helps him command immediate respect from his players.
"They really look up to the fact that I played at Ohio State," Brown said. "(They think), 'He knows what it takes to be there,' so they really buy into what I’m saying and really buy into everything I’m coaching and trying to teach and help them out with, so it’s definitely helped me out along the way."
Having grown up in western Pennsylvania also helps, Brown said, because he knows the high schools and areas he is primarily recruiting.
"Connections and what not and having a name around the area, all that helps," said Brown, who was nicknamed "Pitt" at Ohio State. "It helps out a lot. So it kind of worked in my favor, I believe."
While most of the players Brown is coaching weren’t highly touted recruits like Brown and most of his Ohio State teammates were, many of them still have aspirations of playing football at a higher level, and Brown draws from his experiences with the Buckeyes – as many of his former teammates have gone on to play in the NFL – in encouraging them to chase their goals.
"I like them guys to set that bar high, and want to get to that next level, because that’s what their goal should be," Brown said.
Brown could end up coaching one former four-star recruit who is also a former Buckeye this season in Eric Glover-Williams, who is reportedly transferring to Slippery Rock after playing defensive back and wide receiver at Ohio State before being dismissed from the team last season. (Author’s note: Brown said he could not yet comment on players who are joining the team as transfers.)
For the most part, though, Brown is coaching Pennsylvania natives who were not recruited by Division I programs out of high school. And Brown knows how difficult it can be to make it in the NFL even as a highly recruited player who started at Ohio State. So while Brown is encouraging his players to set their goals high, he’s also encouraging them to make sure they take care of their business in the classroom.
"I try to help them guys ... trying to get to the next level and what not, but also I preach to them, 'Man, get your degree,' because I know how it works out in the NFL," Brown said. "A lot of guys don’t make it and especially, probably at the Division II level, you probably have a slimmer chance of making it to the next level. So obviously you have to tell them guys to shoot big, man, shoot for the stars, but also, you want to have a backup plan. You want to really get your degree and have a plan at life."
Brown has that plan for his own life now, and his goal is to continue climbing the ladder in the coaching profession. And while Brown is grateful for and enjoying the opportunity he has now at Slippery Rock, he has his sights set on eventually coaching at college football’s highest level.
"My passion is football, so coaching, that’s going to be my thing, my career going on here on out. And I just want to keep working for the next level, I really want to get to the Division I level as soon as possible, so I can coach at the highest level that I can possibly in the near future," Brown said. "I just want to keep on working, keep on coaching and try and work my way up from there. And hopefully one day, I can get up to the Power 5 conferences and coach up there."