FAIRFIELD — Not many people would have batted an eye if you wouldd have expected the Fairfield football team to take a step back in 2020 after years of domination in the Northern B division.
The Eagles welcomed in a new head coach in Greg Misner after longtime coach Les Meyer accepted an administration position at Frenchtown, and they lost some of the best athletes in the state to graduation.
But the more things change, the more they stay the same.
“We might not have as many athletes as we have in the past like Ryder (Meyer), Dawson (Allen) and Keeley (Bake),” said senior wide receiver and defensive back Connor Murray, “but past teams have built a legacy of success and we can’t lose that. Our ability to win those close games is what kind of sets us apart from those teams.”
After back-to-back wins against Malta and Glasgow, the Eagles (5-1) are Northern B champs again and boast a No. 1 seed entering the Class B playoffs.
And though the team is under new leadership, they did return some consistency on the sideline. Assistant coach Charlie Brown provided continuity for the Eagles, and he’s one of the common denominators for the success Fairfield has enjoyed in 2020 and past seasons.
“I was head coach in Fairfield from 1991 to 1994 and then Dean Gamradt took over from 1994 to 1997,” Brown said. “And then coach Meyer took over in 1997 and then I jumped on board as an assistant with him in 1998.”
When Misner took over the program in the summer, he leaned heavily on Brown to help bridge the gap between coaching staffs and help the players and new assistants get up to speed.
“He was a big help, he helped me get acclimated in the district and to get to know the players because I hadn’t met them yet,” Misner said, “He’s a good leader for our program, he’s a great mentor to our coaches and our kids. Coach Brown has just been invaluable.”
Brown was mulling retirement in the off-season, but felt compelled to come back for at least one more season.
The kids needed a constant and they needed someone that they can rely on who speaks the same language,” Brown said. “They needed someone to be there for them. And that's what I was intending to do at least with this year.”
The senior class holds a special place in Brown’s heart, and it goes both ways.
“We're all just kind of happy he stuck around after our old coaches left,” said senior defensive back Gavin Mills. “It was good to have him help mix some of the old stuff with the new stuff that coach Misner brought in. They’ve all done a great job, and it’s just flowed well.”
After 30 years on the sidelines, Brown has seen it all with the Eagles - from lean years to championship seasons. The first four seasons under Meyer, the Eagles went 0-8, 1-7, 2-6 and 3-5. But since 2005, Fairfield has played in eight state championship games winning three Class B titles in that span.
“When we first made the state championship in 2005 against Cut Bank, we kind of thought that was the epitome and we had made it,” Brown said. “We thought we'd never be there again, and then to go on that four-year run of runner-up finishes that we were on and then finally winning it in 2011 was absolutely the best feeling we could have had at that time.”
Brown's love for the game, the community of Fairfield and the players has always been strong, and remains so to this day.
“That’s why I've stayed around at least one more year,” Brown said. “It's absolutely amazing what this community does for us, for the football team. The kids are a good group of kids. They’re hard-working kids. They're goofballs at times, but also they know when it’s time to be serious and get the job done.”
Brown is taking a year-to-year approach to coaching these days. And when the gregarious, good-natured coach does finally decide to hang the whistle up - the sidelines will be a lot more quiet and a lot less fun.
“My bark is a lot worse than my bite,” Brown laughed about his legendary sparring with referees.
He may seem like a grump to an outsider, but the Eagles wouldn’t have it any other way.
“That’s why we love him,” Misner said.
Fairfield opens the Class B playoffs on Saturday at 1 p.m., at home against Missoula Loyola.