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Meet Clarence Brooks: Ravens Defensive Line Coach

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Clarence Brooks, or as the players affectionately call him, "CB," the heart and soul behind the team's perrenial success on the defensive line. Brooks has been with the team since 2005 and was retained by Head Coach John Harbaugh, after being hired by former Head Coach Brian Billick. That is a true tribute to Brooks' success and especially the unique relationship he has with his players.

Every morning I walked into practice during Training Camp in Westminster, I'd see him with his linemen in the end zone stretching out and warming up prior to practice officially beginning for the day. He always seems to be laughing, teasing or getting teased by his players and it was heartwarming to see such huge men acting almost like his own children when they were relaxed and just hanging out. Therefore, I decided to see if I could get an opportunity to sit down with Coach Brooks to find out more about what makes him so endearing to those players that he is charged with preparing for the season. In addition, I got a chance to ask some of the linemen plus Coach Harbaugh about what it's like working for the man and how much of their success is a reflection back onto him. 

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After this past Saturday's morning session, we met back at the team hotel to sit in the lobby for a few minutes so I could ask him some questions. Earlier in the week, I asked DT Haloti Ngata how what he thought about his line coach:

Beatdown: Haloti, I’m doing a sit down with Coach Brooks tomorrow and I just wanted to know what it’s like playing for the guy?

Ngata: It’s awesome, he’s such a great coach. It’s great, I didn’t know what to expect coming into the league, what kind of coach Clarence was. Now that I’m here, been here a while, I’m just thankful he’s the coach. He just such a great technician coach, taught me a lot, made me a lot better. I’m just happy he’s our coach.

BB: With all the skills he’s able to teach, it seems that he’s almost different from the other coaches in that he has such a laid back good sense of humor, always busting your chops. That doesn’t necessarily translate to the field because you seem to really take it seriously.

Ngata: Oh definitely. He knows when to turn it on and off. He’s such a great coach that he doesn’t need to get on us to make plays. We’re gonna make plays for him, not only for us but for him too. It’s just amazing how he can coach us and still get on us when he needs to.

I also asked DE Trevor Pryce the same question and he gave Brooks what I think is the ultimate compliment in his answer:

BB: Trevor, Bruce Raffel, Baltimore Beatdown. I’m doing a story on Clarence Brooks and I just wanted…

Pryce: Ha, C-Bizzle!?

BB: …want to know what’s it like playing for the guy?

Pryce:  Man, I would have retired if it wasn’t for having a coach like CB. That’s the best comment, the best thing I could say about him. He’s a great coach, there’s a lot of great coaches, but he’s a better person.

Kelly Gregg thinks the same way:

BB: Kelly, just a quick question. I’m doing an article on Clarence Brooks today and I just wanted to know what’s it like playing for the guy?

Gregg: Aw, it’s great, man. He’s been around a long time, knows the game. It’s great working with him every day. You know, he’s always on you, he’s good for us.

However, even with all the accolades about what a great coach he is, they all seem to go back to the man as a person more than the coach:

BB: With all the skills he’s able to teach, it seems that he’s almost different from the other coaches in that he has such a laid back good sense of humor, always busting your chops. That doesn’t necessarily translate to the field because you seem to really take it seriously.

Ngata: Oh definitely. He knows when to turn it on and off. He’s such a great coach that he doesn’t need to get on us to make plays. We’re gonna make plays for him, not only for us but for him too. It’s just amazing how he can coach us and still get on us when he needs to.

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BB: It seems like he has that down-to-earth special relationship…

Pryce: We love him to death, I mean honestly we love him to death. And it’s like we always had this thing where the guys are always messing around, players messing with the coaches, and we can go grab the quarterbacks coach, but nobody comes to his rescue. You grab our coach and Bannan and them boys sweep down on you like the wrath of God. I’m telling you, don’t mess with CB. He takes care of us and we take care of him.

BB: But he seems like a real laid back, fun guy too.

Gregg: Oh yeah, we have our good times but we get out there and work too. He’s great, got a great personality but when it’s time to work he turns it on.

I asked Coach Brooks about that:

BB:  You seem to have a really unique relationship with your players. On one hand you can get in their face and get real serious and on the other hand you’re laughing like one of the kids. The best quote I got was from Trevor. Trevor ‘s comment  when I asked him about you was "I would have retired if it weren’t for CB." So talk about what I see the difference between when I see you sitting with your players versus the other coaches. It seems like there’s not just a football relationship there.

Brooks: First of all I think all the guys on this staff do a great job in their areas with their people. Every team I’ve been on, defensive linemen are always a little bit different kind of a group. This group here is very close, they really are a close knit group. They really care for and about each other. I like being around them. Now the thing I like about them is that sometimes, when I have to get after them, I get after them and they know when I’m serious and they know when I’m not. They respect me and I respect them. That’s another thing we have, we don’t try to embarrass our players, when we put them out there we challenge them all the time.

Clarence Brooks has been in the league for a long time, but when he played the game, he was on the offensive side of the ball. I asked him about the switch for the coaching side of his career, as well as how he uses his college education to help him as a coach:

BB: So this is your 17th season. You came to the Ravens, I think, in 2005. How does it feel that you came here under one coach and you were retained by John Harbaugh?

Brooks: Well, I’ll tell you what. At the time I came here, we just got let go at Miami, and I got a chance to come here under Brian Billick and that was great. I was here for three seasons under him and had a chance to stay when John came he wanted to retain me. I thought that was fantastic because I love this organization. It’s a heck of an organization, great people here, good players and I just really wanted to be able to stay here and go on with these guys because it’s something I was enjoying at the time and still am.

BB: According to your bio, you’ve been coaching since 1975 and you’ve been coaching defense all that time. But yet, apparently you played offensive line in college, so why defense?

Brooks: Yeah, (laughs). You know what, I don’t know. I was an offensive lineman in high school, was a lineman in college and when I first started out coaching I was working on the offensive side of the ball, working as an assistant offensive line coach at the University of Massachusetts. Then a position came open on the defense and it sounded good to me and I got on defense and been there ever since.

BB: College degree in Sociology, right? How does it help, do you get into the players’ minds?

Brooks: (laughs) I try, I’ll tell you what, I try not to. In this job, you have to be a coach, a teacher, a little bit of a psychologist, ..,

BB: …a parent?

Brooks: Yeah, a little bit of a parent sometimes, you know there are different times, different stages with different guys, so things come up that they might need, but I tell you it’s all enjoyable. I love what I’m doing and couldn’t see myself doing anything else.

Coach Brooks has been blessed with great players to work with. However, he still has to know how to differentiate between what he does for the vetrans as opposed to the younger guys:

 

BB: With people like Kelly and Trevor being such experienced veterans, what is you r role in working with them as opposed to some of the younger guys?

Brooks: The thing with our veteran players here, they really take ownership of what the young guys are doing. I might say something to one of the young guys as a correction and the older guys might see there’s still a little bit of confusion in the young guys’ eyes and they’ll sort of interpret it for me. If it wasn’t for the older guys, guys like Kelly and Trevor, who’ve been around for ten, twelve, fourteen years, the other guys wouldn’t follow suit. Everybody who comes into this program, comes into this position group, they kind of, "oh, okay this is the way it’s done here."

BB: So they get it from a players’ perspective?

Brooks: Yeah, they understand there’s an order to things and they understand how hard we work and they understand that when they’re on the field and we challenge them all the time, it’s to make them and us better and it’s never ever personal and it’s all about playing the game and winning the game.

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 This season, it appears that the depth on the defensive line is better than it has been in years. Trevor seems to think so and even Head Coach John Harbaugh agrees, giving a lot of credit to their line coach:

BB: Coach, Trevor Pryce said this is the deepest group of defensive linemen you’ve had in years. What do you think about that and how does that reflect on Coach Brooks?

Harbaugh: I think it’s the deepest group we’ve had since I’ve been here. Now, I know that’s not very long, but for Trevor [Pryce] to say that is really high praise. And it says a lot about Clarence Brooks. He develops defensive lineman. We have guys on our roster right now that other teams gave up on and have come in here with Clarence. We’ve seen it. They’re good players, and they’re going to be really good players. So, that’s a tribute to the coach.

Here's Coach Brooks' take on this subject:

BB: Trevor said today that this is the deepest group of guys on the defensive line since he’s been here and when I mentioned that to Coach Harbaugh he said that he’s only been here one year but it’s definitely deeper than it was last year.

Brooks: Yeah, it is and we need to thank God for that because we manage to stay healthy and as long as that continues, we’ve got a very nice mix of guys who’ve been around, battling for positions and we’ve got some guys who can play and have played in the NFL and have played a lot of years, so we feel pretty good about that.

As an example of the sense of humor shared between the players and their line coach, there was a little incident last week when Haloti Ngata lined up as the fullback on goal line offense, took the handoff and scored. Here's what happened next along with both Ngata's and Brooks' take on it:

BB: I saw you take a handoff on the goal line offense and after you scored you went over to him and gave him a playful tap and sat him on his butt. What happened there?

Ngata: I think I caught him when he was on that one leg and it was just perfect timing. He clicked his ankles and fell over, but I didn’t mean to do that. He definitely got on me the next day about hitting him down.

BB:  Haloti, earlier this week, took a handoff at the goal line and came through and scored. He was so excited he came over to you, tapped you and knocked you off balance. I asked him about that and he said he caught you off balance, you clicked your heels and fell. He said you got on him about it.

Brooks: (laughing) Yeah he got me. I was kind of halfway paying attention to him. I was looking at something else, he got me and over I went. We have fun like that as a group, we have fun like that together and I just love being around these guys and how they play. You never have to worry about them going out on the field and not playing hard. I mean these guys work tremendously hard for us and I feel good about that.

I also asked Haloti for any "secrets" I should know about Coach Brooks and here's what obth of them had to say:

BB: Any little secret I should know about him, when I sit down, that I could bust his chops about?

Ngata: Uhhh…he cusses too much.

BB: I asked Haloti to tell me something that nobody else knows about CB. So he thought for a while and says, "he curses way too much."

Brooks: (laughs loudly) Yeah, I do, and my wife’s over there and she’ll tell you the same thing. But you know what? I try to clean it up around here but there can be times that my language gets a bit colorful. I’ve been working on it for a long time, haven’t mastered it yet but I’m trying.

Before we finished, I asked him about his son, who is part of the Ravens coaching staff, his future plans and what it will be like coaching against his former Defensive Coordinator in tonight's exhibition game:

BB: It’s also nice that you have your son working on the staff. I know he doesn’t work with you, but how does it feel knowing that day in and day out, he’s right there?

Brooks: It’s outstanding. I mean that I never would have dreamt that this would happen. When the situation came up and he got into the process and John hired him, I’m ever grateful to John for that. So he’s just getting his first step into this business and it’s been an eye opener for him, this is hard work and a lot of time, but I feel blown away that he’s here with us and it’s great to have him. He just got married a couple of months ago, he’s starting off as a newlywed in this business, but it’s just fantastic.

BB: What’s next for Clarence Brooks? Any future aspirations, do you see yourself DC-ing or head coaching?

Brooks: You know, this job is everything rolled up into one. It’s very demanding, it’s very challenging but it’s also extremely rewarding. I don’t think I’m as good a defensive line coach as I wanna be or gonna be. So there’s a lot more for me to do. Anything else that comes down the line, it comes, but I’ll tell you what, I love what I’m doing, I love the people I’m doing it with. At this point in time I’m just jacked up to still be out here and working with these young guys. It really lifts me a lot and who knows what happens down the road. Whatever happens down the road happens I don’t look at the crystal ball, I never have. I just keep my head down, grind, work and good things will happen.

BB: Monday night, looking across the field, you’re going to see a familiar face on the opposite sideline. What’s it gonna feel like?

Brooks: First of all, we’re extremely happy for Rex. He’s a guy that warranted getting one of these jobs. He got one, he was prepared for it. He’s a friend and was great to work with for four years I was here. It’s gonna be a little weird seeing him at first, but as the game starts now we’re going to wish him luck at the beginning and we’re gonna wish him luck at the end, and try to kick his butt in the middle.

BB: That’s it, I really appreciate it. Thanks.

Brooks: Okay, thank you.