Perry going back to East Side Saturday
Former Brown standout matching wits with mentor
James Perry is doing his best to treat Saturday’s game at Brown as the next one on the schedule. It’s the only process the first-year Bryant head coach knows.
When Perry looks across the field on Saturday afternoon, he’ll see someone who proved to be integral to his own climb up the coaching, and before that was just as instrumental in helping the former star quarterback set virtually every Brown and Ivy League passing record during his college career.
Such “old-hat” familiarity with longtime Bears head coach Phil Estes makes for an intriguing chess match with Brown Stadium serving as the backdrop.
Mentor versus pupil is the chief storyline on the local college football scene and features an emotional-tug-of-war where the sentiments are understood. Rest assured they’ll be no clammy handshakes when Perry and Estes cross paths at midfield before the 12:30 p.m. kickoff. Too much respect exists in both camps.
“He was my coach and my boss and continues to be someone I look to for advice,” Perry said.
Rosy sentiments aside, Perry would like nothing more than to get the better of Estes and jog off the same field where he once engineered so many drives that resulted in touchdowns. The competitive, fire-in-the-belly feeling that resides in all football coaches isn’t about to turn all warm and sentimental just because the alma mater and your former head coach is next up on the docket.
“We want to be known as one of the best programs in FCS. In order to accomplish that, you’ve got to play teams like Brown who are at the top level in this division,” Perry said. “We have a great opportunity to go against a great team.”
On the flip side, Estes is out to ensure the balance of power stays on Brown’s side of the ledger. Perry may have firm ties to the Ivy League university, but all that will be irrelevant on Saturday.
“It makes this game a little bit unique and gives us all something to shoot for,” Estes said. “He’s coming back and probably wants to make a statement and I’m not going to allow that to happen.
“We’ll see each other and talk before the game. We’ll talk afterwards and one will be happy while the other is sad,” Estes added.
It’s important to note that Perry has made the trek to Providence’s East Side as an opponent before. The seven seasons (2010-16) he spent as Princeton’s offensive coordinator assured that come every fall, he would lock horns and match wits with the Brown staff.
“It won’t be as disorienting as standing on the opposing sidelines for the first time, but it will be a special moment,” Perry said.
That said, the tenor has changed thanks to what happened eight months ago when Bryant tabbed Perry the third head coach in program history.
“It’s similar to the fact that he’s still the enemy and has close ties to Brown University, but he’s the head guy now. He’s running the whole show. Before, he was only running one side of the ball,” Estes said.
At Brown Stadium’s main entrance, there’s a banner with a picture that pays homage to Perry for winning the 1999 Ivy League Player of the Year and quarterbacking the Bears to the league championship that same year. It’s perfectly understandable if Perry tells the bus driver to drop the Bulldogs off outside a gate where his past isn’t evident upon walking into the stadium. After all, coaches are adament minimizing distractions.
“There’s a lot of history there,” Estes noted.
There’s also an element of the unknown with Estes and Brown set to raise the curtain on the program’s 140th season of intercollegiate football. With two games already in the books, Bryant (1-1) is the team that’s already fully entrenched in the physical and mental preparation needed in advance of playing on Saturdays.
Advantage Perry in that he has sat in on many a pregame meeting with Estes and thanks to his Princeton days has game-planning experience against Brown?
“He knows what he has to correct and we’re going to go into this game kind of blind,” Estes said. “We don’t know our own team as well as we would like. We’ll find out quickly, though.”
You could say that Perry and Estes have a very good relationship, one that knows how to separate the personal from the professional aspect.
Even when Perry was cashing coaching checks at Princeton, he would always make it a point to stop by Brown during the summer months whenever he went home to visit family in Andover, Mass. This past summer, the Perrys were invited to the Estes homestead for lunch that later turned into a pool party.
After Perry got the Bryant job, Estes offered poignant advice to his former signal caller and member of his coaching staff. That told Perry that it might not be a bad idea to take a page from what has worked for Estes at Brown and apply it to the Bryant program he now oversees.
“I’ll be borrowing from the same philosophy and make sure our players are tough and physical minded,” Perry said.
The ties that bind don’t fray easily, no matter the circumstances. On Saturday, Perry and Estes will have to shelve their relationship for the sake of their respective squads. Thankfully, they’ll only have to do so for a few hours.
“I love James Perry. At the end of the day, he’s still a Brown Bear. We admire him and want to see him successful,” Estes said. “Just not this Saturday.”
For the first time in his career, Bryant coach James Perry will go into Brown Stadium as an opposing head coach. Perry quarterbacked Brown to the 1999 Ivy League title.
After enduring a blowout loss to Maine last Saturday in Orono, Bryant coach James Perry (center) leads his team to a familair place, Brown Stadium, Saturday at 12:30 p.m.