From New Jersey mayor to Baltimore Ravens' kicking guru: Meet Randy Brown

Kirby Lee/NFL/AP Photo

PHILADELPHIA -- Like he typically does, Randy Brown hovered near his star pupil, the Baltimore Ravens' Justin Tucker, watching the NFL's most accurate kicker hit ball after ball through the uprights.

During this week's joint practices at the Philadelphia Eagles' NovaCare Complex, Brown's familiar spot felt even more like home.

Brown, the assistant special-teams coach for the Ravens, was standing 12 miles from Evesham Township, New Jersey, where he was the mayor from 2007-18. His journey from elected official to the best kicking coach in the NFL has been much longer.

For the previous 11 years, Brown worked double duty as the mayor of a town with a population of 50,000 and the specialists coach for a team that played in front of 70,000 fans each week. He would attend Ravens practices on Wednesday and Thursday before driving two hours back home for planning-board meetings on Thursday nights.

On game days, his two worlds sometimes collided.

"You know how nice constituents are when you’re the elected official, and how understanding they are when you don’t get back to them when a deer is dead in their front lawn, when their trash can was ruined, and when their street wasn’t plowed on a very snowy day?" Brown asked. "So, even though they’re watching you on TV coach a game … You should see the emails and texts, or the phone calls my wife would get: ‘The mayor hasn’t responded to me.’ ‘Well, do you understand he’s coaching a game right now?’"

On those drives down Interstate 95, Brown brought Philadelphia soft pretzels for the Ravens organization along with a coaching technique that has produced results unlike any other in league history.

Three of the most accurate field goal kickers of all time -- Tucker at No. 1, Wil Lutz at No. 4 and Steven Hauschka at No. 7 -- have all been tutored by Brown. He also worked with Kaare Vedvik for two years, transforming an undrafted rookie into a coveted prospect who was traded to the Minnesota Vikings for a fifth-round pick this month (the highest draft pick compensation for a kicker in 23 years).

"Randy does a really nice job of teaching the fundamentals of kicking and taking the skills and abilities of that kicker or punter and kind of work with that guy as opposed to teaching his way of kicking," coach John Harbaugh said.

Brown, 52, once set his sights on playing in the NFL. He broke 10 school records at Catawba College but never kicked in a pro game despite working out for 15 teams over a three-year period.

Brown went into coaching, where his path first crossed with Harbaugh in 1998 at the Senior Bowl. Harbaugh had recently been hired as the Philadelphia Eagles' special-teams coordinator, and Brown was a kicking consultant with the Chicago Bears under Dave Wannstedt.

When Harbaugh was hired as the Ravens' head coach a decade later, he reached out to Brown to join his staff. The only problem was Brown had been elected mayor nine months earlier. Brown felt he couldn't step down after beating a four-term incumbent by 277 votes.

That was the start of Brown's twice-weekly trip from New Jersey to Maryland. A total of 20,000 miles of driving per year allowed Brown to remain part of the NFL and keep his commitment as mayor, which paid him $300 each month.

“Thankfully, John Harbaugh is a political science guy and loves politics, and he allowed me to be mayor for 12 years," Brown said.

Along with former special-teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg, Brown helped form one of the best specialist crews in the NFL. Tucker, punter Sam Koch and long-snapper Morgan Cox have all been named to the Pro Bowl over the past four seasons.

The fact Brown was mayor isn’t lost on the Ravens either. Cox would loudly hum "Hail to the Chief" when Brown walked onto the practice field. Occasionally, despite coaching in three AFC Championship Games and winning a Super Bowl, Brown’s mayoral duties took precedence. Brown has had to miss a practice because of problems with snow removal in Evesham and once canceled a film review because he had to balance the budget.

Cox calls Brown the “backbone of the Wolfpack," the self-appointed nickname of Tucker, Koch and Cox.

One of Brown's greatest accomplishments was helping Tucker become the league's most consistent kicker. When Brown first saw Tucker, he saw a player who kicked the ball for what seemed to be a mile, but he had no idea where it was going.

During Tucker's rookie season in 2012, Brown and Rosburg spoke with the undrafted kicker on the second day of training camp. Brown's message was that Tucker could kick in the league by using his technique but he's not going to last for long. Brown knew the key for a "home run hitter" like Tucker is planting from the same spot each time.

The result: Tucker has the best field-goal percentage in NFL history at 90.1 percent. He's the first kicker in the league to produce six seasons of 30-plus field goals. He became the fastest pure kicker to reach milestones of 800 points (95 games) and 900 points (107 games).

"I owe a large part of my individual success to Randy Brown," Tucker said. "So, without Randy (as a rookie), without Randy now, and all the time that we’ve had in between the last seven-plus years, I would absolutely not be the football player that I am today."

Brown nearly chose to put all of his energy toward politics. He once contemplated making a run at succeeding Chris Christie as the governor of New Jersey.

Instead, Brown dropped his campaign for a fourth term as Evesham's mayor last year and accepted a larger role with the Ravens this offseason. With Rosburg retiring, Brown was named an assistant under special-teams coach Chris Horton.

"You guys only see him as the specialists coach, really versatile with kicking and things like that, but he definitely brings great ideas to the table when we’re talking about, ‘What do we want to run, game plan-wise? And player-wise, do you think we should play this player here or there?,'" Horton said. "He’s been in this league for a long time, so he understands the game, he sees it from different sides, and he’s been great to have around."

The Ravens had turned down interview requests for Brown over the years. When Brown spoke to Baltimore reporters for the first time this week, he could see Tucker, Koch and Cox watching him from behind the cameras.

Why has Brown been so vital to their success? He has an eye for what it looks like to kick a good ball, deliver a perfect snap and hit a great punt. He also brings a strong voice into the room, whether it's politics or football.

"He’s an excellent communicator," Tucker said. "The hallmark of a great coach is being able to communicate to a variety of different personalities effectively, and Randy absolutely knows how to do that.”

You might even say that Brown would get their vote.