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Building Brock Forty years into his coaching career, charlie brock is still having fun

By Gage Nutter

His cheeks begin to redden.

His eyes focus in. Wrinkles protrude from his forehead. He stares at the source of his dissatisfaction through his pair of glasses.

Charlie Brock is unimpressed.

He stands in front of the scorer’s table in Springfield College’s Blake Arena -- hands on his hips under his suit jacket. He gives his scowl of disapproval that supporters of the team have come to know.

One of his players isn’t putting in enough effort on the court.

Potential rebounds are not being grabbed, shots are off the mark and the defense is lackluster.

Brock would have normally stomped his foot in disapproval. But after decades of stomping on the sideline and surgeries to his knee and ankle, the option isn’t available.

As the player makes his way back down the court, Brock calls out his name and gives him a piece of advice in his hoarse, booming voice.

“Work harder!”

The instruction was simple, but it carried weight coming from someone who has led young men from the sidelines of a basketball court for 40 years.

Having a bad game is one thing. But being told you aren’t working hard enough is another thing entirely -- it strikes a player to their core.

There is a difference between a young head coach who hasn’t experienced much demanding hard work, and someone who has coached basketball for four decades and has lived Brock’s life.

His family’s farm needed someone to work the field and tend to the livestock. Taking care of all twenty-two acres with his dad wasn’t easy. But he did it.

At 25 years old, he worked as a bartender late at night and into the early morning in New Jersey in addition to his first head coaching job.

At 32 years old, he braved through the harsh winters of Minnesota and charged his car battery every night so he could get to work on time the next day.

After years of laying the groundwork, he led Springfield to its first-ever national semifinals in 2018.

Twenty years, and seemingly more to come into his career at Springfield College, he became the program’s all-time winningest coach in 2019.

So, when Charlie Brock tells you to work harder, you do it.

***

It wasn’t a big commercial undertaking. Just enough to sustain the family’s needs.

Brock remembers doing a lot of the dirty work on his family’s farm in Hopkinton, Mass. growing up.

If the animals needed to be fed or some shoveling needed to be done, he did it.

His father, William Brock, worked for the Ludlow Corporation as a salesman and his mother, Jean, worked hard to keep their house in order while raising him and his older sister.

The blue collar environment that he grew up in wasn’t keen on excuses. His dad served in World War II and went on two tours, including one in the Pacific.

“What he said, went,” said Brock.

With his father working during the day and money tight, there weren’t a lot of options available to keep the farm running. Brock’s parents employed the best kind of labor there is – free labor, and he became the labor force. Weeks, eventually years, of this physically taxing work went on. Day by day, he grew stronger -- mentally and physically.

As his stature continued to grow, so did his interest in athletics. Summer days were spent going to the local tennis court in town and playing with his dad. He trained his footwork, he learned the rules, how to serve and return shots, front hand and backhand, from his father.

“It was a cool thing between us,” said Brock. “It was something we shared.”

He played throughout high school, but he found that his temperament wasn’t well suited for the game – basketball was what worked for him.

***

It would be to no one’s surprise on a warm spring day in 1976 to see Brock rolling down Alden Street on his British BSA motorcycle with a black leather jacket on his back and a big red afro blowing in the wind – sporting from time to time his infamous scowl.

“He was rugged,” said classmate Don Pingree. “I never saw him fight someone, but the threat was always there. You wouldn’t want to mess with a 6 foot 5 inch redhead.”

Brock pictured with his motorcycle in 1974

On the basketball court, Brock used that ruggedness to become a versatile low post defender for the Pride. His ability to move laterally became so refined during his tennis days, it was almost impossible for opponents to get by him on the block.

Whenever he stepped onto a basketball court, his work ethic and defensive prowess came to light – but once he stepped off of it, there were some improvements that needed to be made.

“I didn’t have the maturity to understand that I should go to class,” said Brock. “I was, what might be considered, a late bloomer.”

One fall day, Brock decided to attend an American International College football game with a couple of friends. He leaned over the chain link fence near the sideline. As he watched the game, he decided to unwind with a cigarette.

Little did he know, his basketball coach, Ed Bilik, was in the stands – and he was watching.

He called Brock into his office the next day.

“I told him he had a decision to make,” said Bilik. “You’re either going to be sucking on cigarettes or playing basketball…We just laid it on the line.”

Brock remembers the meeting all too well.

“I think there was a fight or flight (response) there,” he said. “I could’ve just said to heck with it and smoke cigarettes and hang around, or I could get back into the ring and get after it. I think part of that was playing, and I wanted to play.”

After the meeting, Brock’s leadership skills and standards were heightened considerably. He rounded into an all-around good player, especially defensively, and became a leader in Springfield’s locker room.

“I think Charlie made a decision that he wanted to be a basketball player and a student athlete -- and he became one,” said Bilik.

***

He doesn’t remember exactly when it happened, he just knew it wasn’t good.

Around the midway point of his senior season, Brock injured his knee and was sidelined for the remainder of the year.

The pain was excruciating, but not playing felt even worse.

“When you get hurt it is a bit of a nasty feeling,” said Brock. “You feel like an outcast.”

Although the injury and ensuing rehabilitation was grueling, he made a conscious effort to stay a part of the team. He went to every practice and traveled for the team’s away games.

While sitting on the sidelines during games and practices, he saw the game in a different way. Some things that he didn’t understand while playing started to make sense from the sideline.

He not only observed how Bilik coached, but he started to understand why he carried himself the way he did.

The injury was painful, but it allowed him to see and appreciate basketball in a way that would change his life.

“That is when I got attracted to teaching and coaching basketball.”

***

Brock was torn.

It was 1976 and he was a year removed from his college graduation when he got the call from Bilik. His old coach wanted him to come back to Springfield and work on his staff as a graduate assistant.

After graduation, Brock, much like many young college grads, didn’t know his next step. He moved to Maine, spending his first year out of school working odd jobs, but mostly construction.

The work reminded him of his days on the family farm.

The construction company offered him a full-time job if he stayed. But ever since the end of his senior year at Springfield, his desire to coach was strong. He took a chance and accepted the graduate assistant position.

“Bilik called, and I answered,” said Brock.

Since he was around the age of players on the team, he understood how to connect with and coach them effectively. His ability to relate to younger players helped make him one of the coaching staff’s best recruiters.

Brock (left) and Bilik (right)

In those first years on the sideline, Brock started to pick up on some things that he didn’t notice during his playing days. He quickly learned that Bilik approached every game the same way. It didn’t matter whether the team was playing the best program in the country or the last place team in the conference.

“He was implacable,” said Brock.

Bilik was disciplined, but Brock continued to be impressed by how humble he was, too.

The year before Brock arrived on Alden Street, Springfield defeated a UMass team that was a regional powerhouse and led by Hall of Famer, Julius “Dr. J” Erving.

It was arguably the biggest win in the program’s history. Bilik rarely spoke of it.

“He never made a big deal out of it,” said Brock. “It was just another game that we won.”

Being humble and preparing for teams, ranked or not, the same way is something that Brock picked up from Bilik decades ago and it is something he continues to try and do today.

“I hope it will be said that I have been like that,” said Brock.

***

The sound of bouncing balls and children chatting echoed down the hall from Baldwin Gymnasium in Madison, N.J.

Brock walked into the gym and saw kids shooting hoops. His team was scheduled to use the space to practice that afternoon. He walked over to the group and sent them on their way.

Springfield men’s volleyball coach and New Jersey native Charlie Sullivan still remembers when Brock would kick him and his friends out of that gym.

“We all took shots until the big guy with the big mouth came,” said Sullivan. “Then we would run.”

It was 1980 when Brock was named head coach at Drew University. The job only paid $9 thousand a year, but it was a start. He relished the opportunity to prove himself as a young coach, but to get by he had to work extra hard.

Compensation for the job was so low that he had to supplement his income by working as a bartender on off nights and as a tennis instructor at a yacht club during the summers.

Brock (left) and assistant coach Vincent Masco (right)

He remembers working late at the local bar in town and counting up all the money he made in tips at the end of the night.

Bartending came easily to him, but when it came to running his first basketball program, he went through some growing pains.

“I can’t imagine that I knew what I was doing when I took the job,” said Brock.

A lot of his basketball knowledge at the time came from what he learned in his years playing and coaching on Alden Street. He decided to run an offense at Drew that was similar to the one Bilik was running at Springfield.

The flex offense, as it is commonly known, uses high and low screens to get open shots under the hoop and jump shots around the elbow.

Although the choice to run the offense was one of necessity at the time, Brock adopted the strategy in the following years and it is something he continues to run at Springfield.

Drew had a breakout campaign in his third year. The team went undefeated in conference games for, what still remains as, the second time in the school’s history.

Brock admits he was naive in those early days, but he found his way.

“I knew enough to get some things done.”

***

Brock didn’t even know how to pronounce Gustavus Adolphus when he first arrived on the college’s campus, but he learned over the next three years.

He started coaching with the Lions in 1986 after four seasons at Drew.

The winters in New England and New Jersey were something that he was accustomed to, but they were nothing like January in St. Paul, Minn.

A blizzard in 1988 wreaked havoc on most of the state. Winds reached upwards of 60 mph, snow drifts were up to seven feet high. He remembers sometimes having to take his car’s battery out and charging it overnight to make sure he would get to work on time the next day.

Brock could tell that his roster at Gustavus had the potential to compete at a high level in the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference.

He was determined to turn the group into something great.

“I was a flashy guy from the East that talked too fast...They had no idea what was coming,” said Brock.

He led the program to two NCAA tournament appearances and an MIAC title in his three seasons at Gustavus.

Brock looks back on his years in St. Paul as some of his favorite in his coaching career. Working at high school basketball camps in the summer and with his roster of tough midwestern kids in the winter was what he loved to do.

He remembers the school’s gymnasium being packed for home matchups every season. The games served as a way for students and members of the community to get out of the cold and watch Brock’s hard-nosed kids go to work.

But most of all, the town loved basketball as much as he did.

“It’s one of my regrets that I didn’t stay a little bit longer at Gustavus,” said Brock. “I really enjoyed it.”

***

Things change when the hot, Southern Texas sun hits your skin for the first time.

Brock took his Gustavus team down to Trinity for a non-conference game in one of his final seasons at the college. While there, he was struck by the campus’ beauty. The weather was also a little bit better than what was normal in Minnesota.

“It was a much better place to live,” said Brock. “I got kind of enticed by the climate.”

The following season, Trinity was in need of a new head coach. Brock interviewed for the position and was offered the job.

At the time, Trinity had recently moved into Div. III from Div. II. They wanted a coach that could find them success.

Brock got the program on the right path, but it took some time.

His first season at the college in 1989 still stands as one of the toughest in his coaching career. The team went 7-18 on the season.

In the next three years, his teams steadily got better and better.

Brock prides himself on being efficient. Although he found success during the second half of his stint at Trinity, he doesn’t make any excuses about the program’s missteps during his first few years at the school.

“Quite frankly, Trinity took too long,” said Brock. “It should take three or four years (to see improvement) and it took me probably five.”

On top of it taking a while to turn things around, the attitude towards basketball by fans and administration at Trinity was different than the one held at Gustavus.

Trinity is in Southern Texas where football is king and basketball is seen as a secondary sport. The crowds that came to the games in San Antonio weren’t like the ones that would fill the gym at Gustavus in St. Paul. The excitement around the team wasn’t the same.

The situation was different, but he made it work.

He stayed at the school for nine seasons, his longest tenure at any school up to that point.

“Living in San Antonio was pretty enticing, so I wasn’t in a big hurry to leave.”

***

Brock was torn.

It was 1998 when he got the call from Bilik.

Now the Athletic Director at Springfield College, he wanted Brock as the next head coach of the Springfield men’s basketball team.

Brock was coming off his best season at Trinity and the weather in San Antonio was impeccable. It took a lot of thinking, but he eventually interviewed for the position and was awarded the job.

“It was coming home,” Brock said.

Returning to Alden Street gave him the opportunity to not only coach on the court, but teach in the classroom. At Gustavus, he remembers teaching physical education and enjoying it. It gave him the opportunity to talk to students not on the basketball team and make new connections.

With Springfield’s philosophy of educating the whole person, teaching in the classroom is always encouraged for coaches.

“One of the things I didn’t have at Trinity that I love to do is teach...Just getting to know other kids,” said Brock. “Being a member of the faculty and teaching (at Springfield) was a major attraction for me.”

Almost 40 years into his coaching career, Brock’s passion for the game has not wavered -- he’s just had to find different ways of expressing it on the sidelines the last few seasons.

Brock has had to deal with multitude of other ailments the last few years. He had a knee replacement in 2013 and went through an eight hour spinal surgery in 2016. After years of stomping his foot on the sideline, the action caused him to fracture a bone. He must now get an ankle replacement at the end of 2019.

He was relegated to wearing a medical boot and sitting more than he is used to at the beginning of the 2018-19 season as he rehabbed his foot. The pain was, and continues to be, difficult to deal with, but he’s never thought twice about toning things down.

“I’m having fun,” said Brock. “I just don’t do post moves (in practice) anymore.”

***

Brock sits down at the desk nestled in the corner of his office.

He is surrounded by memories and moments in his career. A photo of him on the sideline coaching next to Bilik as an assistant hangs on the wall to his right. A collage of photos from big games during Springfield’s national semifinal run hangs to his left. A file cabinet full of playbooks from his time at previous colleges sits under the collage.

With 40 years of coaching memories hanging on his walls, he is always reminded of the past whenever he enters his office. For him, the past is a fun place to visit, but not for too long. The present and the future is what’s most important.

Brock puts his foot on top of his desk to ease the chronic pain in his ankle. He’s thinking of the future. A future that will eventually no longer involve coaching.

He imagines that he’ll do a lot of gardening, which has become one of his favorite hobbies. But other than that, it’s all up in the air.

“I’m not sure what I’ll do,” said Brock. “I’ll do whatever anyone wants me to do...It will be whatever I want to do.”

Every October 15th for the last 40 years has been consistently booked for him. It has always marked the first day of practice. He imagines once he retires that the day will make him anxious every time it comes around.

“I’ll think that I must be doing something right now...There is something I should be doing,” said Brock. “I don’t think that’ll change.”

That’s the future. Sure, it’s important, but not as much as the present.

Four decades into coaching, Brock is still having fun.

“You’ve got to like what you’re doing and the people you’re doing it with,” he said. “I like the kids that we are dealing with -- always have. Springfield is a great place. I’ll finish out here and it’ll be just right.”

He pauses and takes a draw from his e-cigarette -- an homage to his rebellious past before he continues.

“I haven’t even thought about an end date. It’s how long I enjoy it and how long (the school) is willing to have me here -- and maybe not necessarily in that order.”

A sly, rebellious smirk shines out of the corner of his mouth.

Credits:

Drew University Archives, Charlie Brock, Gage Nutter, Springfield College Archives

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