In 1958, superintendent Amos McMurtrey hired former Republic basketball player Leland Brown to coach the 8th grade basketball team. The team included Don Carlson, Tony Logan, Harold Harris, and Butch Blades — four of the five starters who would win the state championship five years later. Brown was fresh out of college, but he eventually had the opportunity to move into a head coaching position at another school. He didn’t take it.
“I just had a feeling about those kids,” Brown recalls. “That’s what I wanted. I said, I don’t think I want to go. I think I want to stay.”
Not long after that, Brown got his chance as head coach in Republic, succeeding John Weiser when Weiser returned to graduate school. Brown’s six-year tenure, beginning with the 1960-61 season, became legendary in Republic.
“It left quite a legacy,” he says. “I think about it a lot. I’ve had lots and lots of comments. Small town sports was big time.”
Brown had actually been a pretty good player in his own right, back in the early 1950s. He led the Tigers with 12.6 points per game as a senior in 1951-52. He followed that up by playing on the junior varsity team at Southwest Missouri State.
His tenure as a coach at Republic was notable for another interesting reason, unreleated to basketball: he was on staff when football returned to Republic in 1962, after a long hiatus. Superintendent McMurtrey, Brown’s former coach, drafted him to serve as an assistant to head football coach Rod Kramer. After forty years without a football team, Republic’s players had a lot to learn about the game. So did Brown.
“I knew nothing about football. The kids knew nothing about football. They didn’t even have Mighty Mites in Republic,” Brown laughs.
“(McMurtrey) said ‘You’re going to be the assistant.’ I said ‘I don’t want to be the assistant.’ He said ‘You don’t have any choice.’ I said okay, but when basketball season starts practice on October 1, I go to basketball. That was ’62 and ’63. I knew we were going to be good and I didn’t want to miss a day.”
Because of the talent on those teams (including all-staters Carlson, Logan, and Howard Arndt), it would be easy to dismiss Brown’s accomplishments as a coach. But the Tigers went 29-3 the year after graduating four starters from their state championship team.
A year ago, before he passed away, Carlson reflected on how much Brown contributed to Republic’s success.
“I don’t think he gets enough credit. You’re managing the skills of everyone and the offenses that you put together,” Carlson said. “You’re adapting your offense to the skill level of your players and building that character in them, that we don’t care who gets 15 or 20 points a night.
“Sometimes that’s even more difficult to manage those egos for a coach when those expectations are high. I know he had a lot of pressure on him, but he was just a wonderful coach and a wonderful person.”
When the Tigers played in the state semifinal in 1963, Brown remembers that he wasn’t at the top of his game. He had to rely on the preparation of his players and the help of Kramer, who became the basketball assistant coach when football ended.
“I had migraine headaches, and at that time they were really bad. The kids pretty well knew what to do and we didn’t change anything or add anything,” he says. “We won our semifinal game and I laid on the bench during that next (semifinal) game and Rod took (scouting) notes for me.”
The following day, Bernie’s run-and-gun offense stunned the Tigers at the start of the game. Arndt recalls what happened next.
“Bernie jumped out to an 8-0 lead on us. I always remember Coach calling a timeout. We walked over and he just kind of stood there and said, ‘Let’s give them a break and let them settle down.’
“He was just calling a timeout to get a break in play, and from then on, maybe it settled our nerves down, too, a little bit. He just said, ‘They can’t keep that up.’ That was a really pivotal point of the game for us. We went on and played our game from then on.” The Tigers cruised to a 78-63 victory.
“We had people from all over the area, for years, who would come up to me and say, ‘Coach Brown?’ I’d say, ‘How do I know you?’ and they’d say, ‘I never met you, but I watched every game your team played in ’62 and ’63.’ There was a lot of that for years and years.”
In the time since he was a coach, Brown has worked harder than anyone to keep the memory of Tiger athletics alive in Republic. His book, Looking Back…A Memoir of Republic Sports, includes 200+ pages of stories, stats, and photos. His work as a historian alone would merit him inclusion in any listing of Republic’s most important sports figures. But he knows his work as coach is what will be his signature accomplishment.
“I think that probably most fans are going to remember the ’63 team, and especially those three years (around the championship,” he says.
Brown looks back on his time as a Republic coach with pride, and he says none of it would have happened without the early support of his own former coach.
“I guess I was here at the right time,” Brown says, “and I credit Amos McMurtrey with a lot of that.”
- Coached Republic’s first state champion (1963 Class M)
- In six seasons, compiled a record of 155-36 (a winning percentage of .812)
- During a three-season stretch (1961 – 1964), led Republic to a 93-6 record
- Suffered double-digit losses only one time (11, in his first season as a head coach)