Staff Photo: Jason Braverman. Parkview baseball coach Chan Brown knew he had large shoes to fill when he replaced retiring coaching legend Hugh Buchanan. With the increase in depth in Class AAAAA baseball throughout the state, it hasn't made his job any easier. Brown is just two wins away from having the Panthers on top once again as they play host to Hillgrove today for a shot at their first state title since 2002.
A common theory about coaching is that you never want to be the person who follows a legend.
In that respect, Chan Brown may not have been in the enviable position when he took over the reins of Parkview’s baseball program when Hall of Fame coach Hugh Buchanan retired following the 2004 season.
“I’ll be honest, at the time, I didn’t think of it as (following a legend),” Brown recalled. “I was just excited to try to put my name in the hat to have a chance (to coach) such a great program. That part of it didn’t hit me until we had his retirement party.
“There were over five or six hundred people here, and all the people got up and said, ‘I feel sorry for the one who has to replace him because it will never be the same.’ ... That kind of put it into perspective. I knew I had some big shoes to fill.”
But fill them Brown has.
Now in his seventh season as head coach, he and the Panthers (27-9) welcome Hillgrove to the field named after Brown’s predecessor in the Class AAAAA state championship series, beginning with a doubleheader today at 4 p.m.
It is the first time they’ve been to the finals in Brown’s tenure, and the first since the last of Parkview’s three state titles in 2002.
There has been plenty of success in the Brown era — 155 wins against just 61 losses, four Region 8-AAAAA championships, five seasons of 20 wins or more and seven straight trips to the state playoffs.
Still, it’s been a tough road back to the finals due to an already deep pool of state title contenders in Class AAAAA only getting deeper.
“Through the course of the whole AAAAA system, there’s a lot of talented teams and a lot of talented individuals,” said Brown, who served as head coach at Elbert County and as an assistant to Buchanan before succeeding him. “Sometimes you get a good draw, sometimes you don’t. Sometimes you’ve got to have luck. ... I think we’ve had some talented teams in the past that got beat in the second or third round that probably deserved to go further, but we got the unlucky draw against good teams.”
One such instance came in Brown’s first season as Parkview’s head coach in 2005.
The Panthers advanced to the state semifinals, only to fall to Cobb County powerhouse Lassiter in three thrilling games, capped by an epic, 10-inning finale won on a walk-off grand slam by Trojans first baseman Robby O’Bryan, who went on to play at the University of Georgia.
“There have been nights in my basement where that’s all we talk about — that series,” Brown said. “I’ve got the film from it. It hurt. You get that close, and you want to get back. It drives you.”
It has taken longer than he or anyone else around the program would’ve preferred, but Brown has Parkview back in the championship finals.
Two of the players from that talented ‘05 team — David Reynolds and Gator Parker — are now part of Brown’s coaching staff.
But it is another assistant — Roy “Chief” Massey, who has been with the program since Parkview opened — who has been with Brown from Day 1 that has had perhaps the biggest influence on him.
“Since my father died, he’s kind of been my father figure,” Brown said of Massey, who has been coaching for 47 years in all. “He is Parkview baseball. Coach Buck (Buchanan) will tell you that. ... I’ve learned a tremendous amount of baseball from him and Coach Buck, and I’ll never forget that.”
While Massey has served as a mentor to Brown, he has also watched the new head coach mold the program to make it his own while upholding the general philosophy Buchanan built into it.
“I learned a long time ago that (Brown is) the head coach and you’ve just got to work with him,” Massey said. “He’s the one to make the decisions, and he’s done an extremely good job.
“He was on the same page, even though he’s a little younger guy. He’s got more energy than Buck and I had. He made a few changes, but he didn’t change much. You’ve got to coach the way you feel like you’ve got to coach, and he didn’t make any major changes.”
But as big of a role as Brown and his staff has played in getting Parkview back to the finals, he is quick to point out it is the players that ultimately have gotten the Panthers here.
And this year’s team is one of Brown’s most unique teams.
In addition to being one of his youngest with four sophomores and four juniors in the starting line-up, this year’s team is not the prototypical power-hitting Parkview team, aside from junior slugger Matt Olson, who has 14 of the team’s 38 home runs.
But according to Brown, this year’s team has something every other Parkview team has had.
“The biggest thing about Parkview is blue collar ethic,” Brown said. “That’s always been here. ... These kids come in with an expectation to win it all, even as ninth-graders. That’s been our expectation every year as a program, and that will never dwindle.