Going out a winner|Brewer rides off into sunset after guiding Vikings back to the playoffs

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Curtis Brewer’s wiry frame pulls itself out of his chair a little more gingerly than it used to. His hair, even his thick mustache, has turned snowy white with time.

Every autumn day around 2 p.m., however, Warren Central’s 63-year-old coach comes alive and bounces around like the 23-year-old he was when he first walked onto campus. As practice begins, he bellows out a call to arms to his players — the same call their fathers, cousins, uncles and even grandfathers have heard for nearly four decades.

“Let’s go men!” Brewer yells, the voice gravelly but lively as ever as he makes one last checklist of the day’s practice schedule.

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This fall, perhaps more than most others, Brewer relished in those moments. Knowing his career was drawing to a close, he and his coaching staff rallied their team for one last ride. The Vikings had a mediocre season by their once-lofty standards — just 6-6 with a first-round playoff loss to Olive Branch — but it was still their best in far too long.

WC made the playoffs and had a winning record in the regular season for the first time since 2005. That success allowed Brewer to earn his first Vicksburg Post Coach of the Year award in six seasons at the helm of WC, and finish his career with a flourish. Brewer announced his retirement last week after 39 1/2 years total with the school.

“It means a lot to me personally. But I have never been an ‘I,’ or a ‘my’ coach,” Brewer said. “I feel like I’m proud to have it. But I have a greater joy in this award for my coaching staff, the faculty, the administration and the players. They’re the ones that play a vital role in our success.”

Brewer came to Warren Central in 1970. Then just 23 years old, he was fresh out of college and starting what would be a lifelong association with the school. Over the next 40 years he rose through the ranks, holding several assistant coaching positions before becoming head coach in 2004.

Along the way he helped Warren Central win a half-dozen Little Dixie Conference titles in the 1970s, MHSAA Class 5A championships in 1988 and 1994, and a slew of region titles. He also coached and influenced three generations of players.

“You don’t get a tremendous monetary fulfillment as a teacher. To know that parents come back and say you had an influence on them, or when they say ‘you have to keep doing this until my kid graduates,’ that means a lot. You feel you made a difference in somebody’s life,” Brewer said.

Defensive coordinator Josh Morgan, one of four current WC assistants who played for Brewer, said he was as much a family member as a coach or boss.

“I’ve been around him my whole life,” said Morgan, whose father Robert also has coached for nearly 40 years at WC. “We grew up calling him Uncle Curtis. That’s how close we are.”

Not every player had the same sort of bond with Brewer as Morgan did. But the coach has tried to stress the importance of treating the team like a family. The biggest part of that mantra is sticking together when the going gets tough — which it did the past few years.

After winning the Region 2-5A championship in Brewer’s first year as head coach, the Vikings went 7-5 in 2005 and then endured three consecutive losing seasons. Although a dropoff in overall talent was largely responsible for the slump, Brewer did his best to keep the Vikings competitive. They switched to a conservative power-rushing game on offense and relied on a strong defense to keep them in games.

The strategy generated yawns among fans, but also served its purpose. WC was 13-19 from 2006-08, but had one of the best scoring defenses in Class 5A.

“He’s done an excellent job holding the team and program together during some tough times,” Morgan said.

Brewer said the lean years brought out the best in his coaching staff.

“When things ain’t going well it makes it difficult. But in reality, that’s when you have to do the hardest coaching and be more sensitive to how you deal with players,” he said.

In 2009, several talented underclassmen stepped into starting roles and WC regained its status as a team to reckon with. The Vikings won in overtime at Northwest Rankin in September and beat a Natchez team that reached the second round of the Class 6A playoffs.

A midseason slump in which it lost three of four hurt WC’s playoff chances, but it rebounded with a win in the regular-season finale against Grenada and finished third in Region 2-6A.

“This year, just making the playoffs was a big deal. It was big efforts by a lot of players,” Brewer said.

Not long after the season, Brewer started contemplating retirement. Because of the way the state’s retirement plan is set up, coaches who stay long after they reach a certain age end up making less money by working than they would by drawing from their retirement plan. That, along with a desire to spend more time with his wife of 35 years, Janice, ultimately led Brewer to hang up his whistle.

As he heads into retirement, Brewer said he wasn’t sure what his next move would be. He’s spent so much of his life going through the cycle of a season, spring practice and offseason workouts that not having that will feel awkward, he admitted.

“I’m having to look at a lot of adjustments in my life,” Brewer said. “And my wife is going to have a lot of adjustments to seeing me more.”


Contact Ernest Bowker at ebowker@vicksburgpost.com