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SOU names Berk Brown as new head football coach

Former Raider had been the head coach at Crater the past three seasons

ASHLAND — Between his debut as a player for a one-win team in 2005 and his departure as a national champion defensive coordinator 11 years later, Berk Brown made a clear imprint at Southern Oregon University.

Brown served in a variety of roles through a few distinct eras of Raider football, and he’ll get to lead the next one. SOU Director of Athletics Matt Sayre made the reunion official Wednesday afternoon when he named him the 17th head coach in team history.

“Coach Brown’s experience as our defensive coordinator during the most successful seasons of SOU football can’t be underestimated,” Sayre said. “He knows the Frontier Conference and the NAIA and what it takes to win in both. His work on the defensive side of the ball was equaled by his effort in recruiting that brought some of the best players and leaders into the program. Coach Brown is a man of character, and he stresses accountability and organization as bedrock principles of his coaching philosophy. His deep connection to, and love for, Southern Oregon University and Raider football will inspire and re-energize the program.”

Brown, 38, was the defensive coordinator for SOU’s 2014 team that captured the NAIA title. He left, months after the Raiders made their second consecutive appearance in the national championship game a year later, to accept a job as the assistant athletic director at St. Mary’s School in Medford. He’s been a teacher and football coach at Crater High School since 2017, having helped the Comets to an appearance in the Class 5A championship game. He became Crater’s head coach in 2020.

“My family and I are thrilled to be coming back to Southern Oregon University,” Brown said. “This school has a special place in our hearts: It’s where my wife and I met, it’s where we got our degrees, and it’s where I spent 10 years helping build this team into a national champion. I look forward to the challenges ahead as we aim to put Raider football back on the national stage.”

Brown’s task is to turn around a program that has endured three straight losing seasons. The Turlock, California, product is no stranger to the challenge.

Brown transferred from Modesto Junior College (Calif.) to SOU as a defensive lineman and played in 17 games in 2005 and ’06. Following his playing days, he stayed on as an assistant to Steve Helminiak while completing a bachelor’s degree in health and physical education — coaching tight ends, the defensive line and special teams before becoming the defensive coordinator in 2010. When Craig Howard took over as head coach in 2011, for a team that had posted one winning record in its previous seven seasons, Brown was one of two coaches he retained.

Brown was Howard’s special teams coordinator and linebackers coach for two years, then got another shot at the defensive coordinator job in 2013. In his second season, his unit came up with eight takeaways in a stunning 55-31 rout of Marian (Ind.) that capped the team’s first and only national championship run. His defense was also at its best during the 2015 postseason, when the Raiders limited Kansas Wesleyan to eight points in the first round, No. 2-ranked Baker (Kan.) to 19 in the quarterfinals and No. 1 Morningside (Iowa) to a season-low 27 in a semifinal road win.

“I’m ready to mentor and lead young men who want to become the best versions of themselves, and if they don’t quite understand what that means, I want to help them learn what it takes,” Brown said. “When I think of Raider football, I envision a group of young men and coaches who are willing to embrace our culture and put the team before themselves. I see a group of leaders in our community who will be the model student-athletes, and a group of coaches who will treat our players like their own sons. I envision Raider Stadium overflowing with fans, watching our team play with a huge amount of effort, enthusiasm and execution.”

Brown completed SOU’s Master of Arts in Teaching program in 2020. He and his wife, Bethany, have been married since 2008 and reside in Medford with their daughter, Emarie, and son, Ellis.

Crater coach Berk Brown aligns his players during practice this past season. Andy Atkinson/Mail Tribune