Legendary coaches hang up their clipboards
Nixon and Brown led Oak Park to numerous championships
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 01/07/2022 (222 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
The reminders of past athletic glories are plastered all over gym walls at Oak Park High School.
It’s a proud legacy and two men — long-time varsity girls basketball coach Murray Brown and football coach Stu Nixon — were chief architects of programs that won 12 of those championship banners.
On Thursday, on the last day of the 2021-22 academic year, both men were retiring after lengthy teaching careers at the Charleswood area school.
Tears were shed and memories were recounted. There were no regrets.
In the last four years, the 59-year-old Nixon had been winding down his participation with the Raiders football program by stepping down from the varsity boys team to guide the junior varsity squad. His body needed a break following two hip replacements and reconstructive knee surgery.
“What clinched it for me was we were losing the semifinal this year to St. Paul’s and we came back and we scored the winning touchdown at the end of that game off a short kick, which was amazing,” said Nixon, who led the Raiders to the ANAVET Cup title as co-head coach with Gil Bramwell in 2002 and three more varsity titles in 2007, 2010 and 2014 as well as a JV crown in 2017.
“The kids were going nuts, the coaches were going nuts — we’re going to the final again! — and in my head I’m thinking, ‘Another week of practice.’ That’s when it hit me… The kids deserve more than that. It’s time for me to check out.”
Longtime Oak Park colleague Darren Klapak said Nixon’s passion set him apart.
“He put in time second to none,” said Klapak. “Film (study) at lunch every day and the kids got a real experience of what it would be like to maybe be a professional football player. He demanded excellence from them and held them accountable in all aspects of school life — not just on the football field but in the classroom and in the halls.”
Nixon said the Raiders football program, now headed up by Chris Ollson, is in very capable hands. What’s more, Ollson is now teaching at the school, which Nixon believes is a key ingredient to ongoing success.
In 20 years on the job at Oak Park, after stints at Sisler and Grant Park, Nixon’s influence can been seen at the highest levels of the game.
“You can see with the alumni that are playing in the CFL right now that he definitely had a huge impact,” said Klapak. “But beyond that, there are a lot of kids who just are better people because they experienced Stu Nixon as a football coach, not just the Andrew Harrises and Nick Demskis and Sean Jamiesons, but every kid had benefited from playing in the program.”
Meanwhile, Brown’s career accomplishments rate with the best in history.
In 34 years and more than 1,100 games as head coach of the varsity girls hoops squad, he led Oak Park to seven provincial titles — winning in 1998, ‘99, 2004, ‘13, ‘17, ‘18 and ‘19.
The program also produced a steady stream of talent for teams at the U Sports level.
Brown, who played one season of JV hoops as an Oak Park student in the late ’70s, was a neophyte to the coaching game when he got his start at the invitation of varsity boys coach Randy Kusano. He learned all he could from the coaching legend and his assistant Klapak.
“Kids pay attention to what’s going on and look for programs,” said Brown. “It’s one thing to go to school and play for a team, right? But it’s different when a program is good and Randy ran an outstanding program and Stu ran an outstanding program where kids could come and succeed. And so, you’re always being pushed within the school, right? They were doing that so I (knew) I had to get my act together.”
Kusano retired in 2010 and was replaced by Jon Lundgren, who took charge of the varsity boys team and went on to collect three provincial championships before stepping away from coaching in 2021.
Lundgren said Brown was the continuation of a very high standard of leadership.
“He has the right perspective of what high school sports is,” said Lundgren. “He never really developed the ego that some coaches do. He won a lot of games, which is great but I think he was more about his teams always playing the right way, playing hard and doing those things. One of his skills — just watching him coach females — was he treated them like competitive athletes. That’s what they were. They were a competitive team.”
Brown, 61, also had hip replacement surgery last fall, a development that factored into his decision to retire.
Hillary Eldridge, a former player, will be the new Raiders coach this fall but that doesn’t mean Brown will be fading away. He’s joining the staff of new University of Winnipeg women’s basketball coach Alyssa Cox, another former member of the Raiders, while also doing some substitute teaching.
Brown said as the sport changed throughout the decades, so did his understanding of the value of high school sports.
“The kids you’re coaching want to work hard for the most part and so you challenge them to work hard every day and and once I grasped that, we were able to do more,” said Brown.
Nixon also plans to remain active. He hopes to land a job as a practicum advisor at the University of Manitoba while also running for election as a school trustee in the city’s Ward 1 this fall.
“A lot of (retiring) teachers just substitute teach but I got a lot out of watching kids develop as people and toward outcomes,” said Nixon. “And when you’re a substitute teacher, you’re not really witnessing that. So, if I had no other significant plans, it would be really, really a sad day because I still love working with the kids but I’ve got a couple of exciting opportunities that are keeping those emotions at bay.”
Mike has been working on the Free Press sports desk since 2003.