Belt buckles are a symbol of success in rodeo circles. And, as rodeo coach for Weatherford College, Mike Brown enjoyed much success - and made many friends.
Brown was honored recently with a silver belt buckle during a meeting of the Weatherford College Rodeo Booster Club. It commemorated his long service to the school, including rodeo from 1983-2012.
“When I walked in and saw my family here I knew something was up,” said Brown with a smile. “This is pretty special.”
But then, Brown, who stepped down from coaching this season to focus on the classroom, has spent most of his life making others feel special. He still works as an agriculture teacher at WC, but he can always be found playing with or cheering on one of his grandkids.
“I watched my granddaughter pitch seven softball games in one weekend,” he said. “That was great.”
For all the people Brown has made feel great over the years, Sunday evening was a way to say thanks.
“I’ve been here 35 years and I’ve known Mike a long time. Along with what he’s done for the rodeo program, he’s been a really good friend,” said WC athletic director Bob McKinley.
That was the dominant theme of the evening, while Brown’s coaching record was superb; his ability to just be a friend to everyone was greater.
As he took the rodeo program from a club sport to a part of the WC athletic program, over the past eight seasons it gained national acclaim. He sent a competitor to the College National Finals Rodeo each season, and even produced a pair of national champions with Cody Tew in 2007 and Arena Roberson in 2008.
The buckle Brown received Sunday night had a pair of stones in it, one for each national champion. It also had engraved “1983-2012.”
Tew came to WC from Montana and knew very few people. He relied on Brown for some guidance, and of course the coach was right there.
“I showed up about two or three days after class started and I just parked outside his office,” said Tew, who now lives in Lipan. “He walks up and says, ‘You must be that kid from Montana.’”
John C. Brian competed for Brown while rodeo was still a club sport, but he could tell it was on the cusp of moving to a new level. He still belongs to the booster club.
“I believe in the program, and I do whatever I can to help,” said Brian. “I’ve known Mike since I was 13 or 14. He’s always trying to help somebody. He gives and gives.”
Savannah Todd is currently in her third season on the team, spending two years competing for Brown before Johnny Emmons took over as coach. She said meeting Brown was meeting a friend for life.
“He’s just a good guy. He doesn’t have this ‘I’m your coach’ style about him,” said Todd. “We’d sit and talk about rodeo or class, and he’ll always help any way he can.
“And he’s always open just for conversation.”
Brown’s quiet charisma and the steadily-rising success of the program made athletes from all over want to come to WC.
“Those guys he brought from Hawaii brought their own horses,” said McKinley with a chuckle.
Brown also brought Emmons to the program one year after it became a college scholarship sport. After seven years as an assistant, Emmons took over as head coach this season.
But Emmons said much more than mentoring him as a coach, Brown and his wife Sheryl were more like parents.
“This opportunity came at a time in my life when I wanted to slow down,” said Emmons, who had been competing professionally.
“He and Sheryl have been more like family. I didn’t know anything about coaching before I came here, but I’ve learned more about life from him than anything else.
“He’s just a good person.”
Brown stood admiring his buckle, an award he said will always stand out above others.
“I may just put it in the trophy case where I can look at it all the time,” he said. “I might wear it some, but not too much.
“This really is something special, and as much as they appreciate me, I appreciate each one of them just as much or more.”