This weekend, the city of Tampa lost an icon and one of its foremost spiritual leaders when Reverend Abe Brown passed away on Saturday. Rev. Brown has had a profound impact on the Tampa Bay area over the last half-century. He started out as a high school football coach and later in life was called into ministry. He touched the lives of so many people in the city, including me.
I met Abe when I came to Tampa as head coach of the Bucs in 1996. My family attended his church, First Baptist Church of College Hill and he was not only a friend, but a counselor to us as well. As we got to know Rev. Brown, it didn’t take me long to see the things that he was doing to serve the community. My wife, Lauren, started working in the food pantry at the church and Rev Brown asked me to go visit some inmates with him. That was the beginning of my involvement with Abe Brown Ministries, his prison outreach. I continued to make visits for the next 14 years and that outreach has been one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done.
I always enjoyed being out with Rev Brown because he was the one person I could walk with in Tampa where I’d feel almost anonymous. People would yell out from across the street, “Hey Coach!” and they would be referring to Coach Brown. I talk to so many men, even today, who played for him in high school and they talk about the impact he had on their lives. In fact, the whole prison outreach started because Rev Brown went to visit one of his former players who had been incarcerated. His goal was to develop them not just as football players, but as men. That love and care for those young men never changed and that impressed me. It shaped the way I coached because that was my philosophy as well.
I’m going to miss Rev. Brown but I feel we need to keep his legacy alive. His contribution to the city was simply a life of service. If we all would follow his example and look to help people, especially those people less fortunate than we are, I think that would make him smile in heaven.