By STEVE KRAH
Jim Brownlee built a long, successful baseball coaching career on the principles of fundamentals and discipline.
Now 76, retired and living with wife of 51 years — Candy — in Gulf Breeze in the Florida Panhandle (the couple moved there in April 2021), Brownlee can look back on a run that includes 23 seasons as head coach at the University of Evansville (1980-2002), seven seasons at Illinois State University (2003-09) and one season as University of Iowa pitching coach (2013). He was also a longtime basketball official.
“I learned the game of baseball from my college baseball coach Duffy Bass,” says Brownlee of the former Illinois State University head coach and American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer. “He was about as good at fundamentals of anybody I’ve been around — whether it was catching, hitting, bunting or pitching. I kind of patterned myself after him.”
A 1963 graduate of Antioch (Ill.) Community High School, Brownlee played for Bass at Illinois State from 1967-70 and was a teammate of future major league pitcher Buzz Capra. The 1969 Collegiate Division National champions went 33-5 and ran the table in the postseason.
“I learned the running game at a very young age,” says Brownlee. “We were very aggressive at Evansville. One year we had 202 stolen bases.
“I had lesser talent at Evansville. We didn’t have the full amount of scholarships. We had guys we thought would get better and they did. We had guys never drafted out of high school that were drafted out of college.
“I think college baseball has always been that way. (Development’s) at an all-time high. But we’re still behind the 8-ball with scholarships and dates. It used to be we had 120 games between fall and spring (at the NCAA D-I level and now it’s 56 games in the spring with 11.7 scholarships for a roster of 35).
“College baseball keeps growing. It’s become a money-maker.”
That money is bound to go even higher if the season was moved into the warmer months.
Says Brownlee, “40 years ago I proposed we play in the summer.”
Brownlee was “hard-nosed” as a coach.
“Discipline is important to me as a retired Marine,” says Brownlee.
After his playing days ended and having served a stint with the U.S. Marines, Brownlee became an assistant baseball coach at Illinois State (1975-76) and was as head coach for the Galesburg Pioneers in the Central Illinois Collegiate League (which later merged with the Prospect League), where he encountered Bloomington Bobcats pitcher Tim Stoddard. The 6-foot-7 right-hander from East Chicago, Ind., was on his way to an MLB career and is now an assistant coach at North Central College in Naperville, Ill.
Before UE, Brownlee coached at Princeton (Ill.) High School (1976-79).
As Evansville coach, Brownlee won 701 games with four 40-win seasons and seven conference coach of the year honors.
Among his players were future big leaguers Sal Fasano, Andy Benes and Jamey Carroll and Purple Aces head coach Wes Carroll. Benes and the Carroll brothers are Pocket City natives.
The Purple Aces have retired Brownlee’s No. 6 and Benes’ No. 30.
Brownlee has been inducted into the Illinois State University Athletics Hall of Fame as part of the Redbirds’ ’69 national champions, the University of Evansville Athletics Hall of Fame, the Lake County (Ill.) High Schools Sports Hall of Fame, the Bloomington-Normal Officials Association Wayne Meece Hall of Fame and is slated to go into the Indiana Sports Hall of Fame in Evansville in May.
A founding member of the Tri-State Hot Stove Baseball League, that group will honor Brownlee with its Legends Award Jan. 15.
Tri-State Hot Stove Baseball League supports amateur athletics around the Evansville area. It started as an effort to save Bosse Field, which was established in 1915 and for years was the home to high school baseball and football, American Legion baseball and the Triple-A Evansville Triplets before affiliated pro ball left town.
The stadium, which now houses the independent pro Evansville Otters and was host to the IHSBCA North/South All-Star Series in 2021, looked to be condemned and torn down back in the ‘80s.
That’s when Brownlee — who had his UE teams playing home games there at the time — got together with former minor league relief pitcher and manager “Singin’ Ed” Nottle and Evansville Central High School coach Paul Gries and brought in folks like Indiana, College and Pro Football Hall of Famer and Rex Mundi High School graduate Bob Griese, former MLB all-star and Evansville Memorial alum Don Mattingly and former big league pitcher and Evansville Central High grad Benes to help raise funds.
Since then, not only has Bosse Field been saved but local high school and college fields have been upgraded.
“It’s about facilities and making it better and showing it’s an important sport,” says Brownlee.
UE now plays on turf at German American Bank at Charles H. Braun Stadium.
“It was a labor of love for all of us,” says Brownlee. “I’m really proud of what we’ve built with the baseball community there.”
Brownlee had both his sons — Tim and Ryan — as UE players and then coached with both of them.
Tim Brownlee was also on the Illinois State staff and employed his father for a decade with his Normal, Ill.-based baseball tournament company — Diamond Sports Promotions. Between Evansville and ISU, Tim assisted his father for 17 seasons.
Ryan Brownlee was an assistant at Evansville (1998-99), James Madison University (2000-03) and Iowa (2004-12) and head coach at Western Illinois University (2013-19) and is now Assistant Executive Director and weekly podcast host for the Greensboro, N.C.- based ABCA. The ABCA Convention is Jan. 6-9 in Chicago. He plans to appear at the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association State Clinic Jan. 14-16 in Indianapolis. Jamey Carroll is to go into the IHSBCA Hall of Fame Jan. 15.