By Jonathan Deal
Whether it’s drawing Xs and Os in the NFL or motivating a group of first-time football players, some people were just meant to coach.
R.C. “Brownie” Nelson, who coached numerous championships teams at Athens during the 1950s and 60s, is one of those people.
Nelson will be honored for his accomplishments next month when he is inducted into the Limestone County Sports Hall of Fame.
Already a 1995 inductee to the Morgan County Hall of Fame, Nelson could be inducted for a brilliant playing career around the state as well as his successful coaching tenure at Athens.
A native of Eva, Ala., Nelson was a standout basketball player who chose to stay close to home and play at St. Bernard Junior College over offers from Auburn and Ole Miss. Following a successful junior college career, Nelson played at Auburn for his final two years where he led the team in rebounds and was named the SEC Playmaker of the Year in 1956.
Standing a shade under six-feet tall, Nelson’s scrappy playing style allowed him to lead the team in rebounding. The Athens resident joked that they wouldn’t pass him the ball, so he had to charge the basket to get the ball.
Nelson used that scrappy attitude to motive Auburn’s high school basketball team in 1957 to a county championship in his first year coaching. Wanting to move his family closer to home, Nelson jumped at the opportunity to coach at Athens less than a year later.
At a coaches meeting the following summer in Montgomery, Nelson was introduced to Athens basketball legend, Fermin Elmore, who was getting ready to retire.
“He knew a lot about me because he saw me play of lot of high school ball,” said Nelson. “I ran into him at a coaches meeting in Montgomery and he asked me, ‘Would you be interested in coming?’ I interviewed on Friday and was hired on Monday.”
Nelson began coaching the Athens junior high basketball program and didn’t miss a beat. His teams won three straight county championships in 1958-60. Nelson might have won more, but withdrew from the Limestone County Tournament due to a disagreement about who would host the tournament.
Athens has not participated in the tournament since.
Nelson was soon asked to coach the junior high football program, which hadn’t won many games the previous year. Not long after taking over the football team, Nelson won 29 straight games over a three-year period in the mid-1960s.
“I get those boys in the seventh grade and they don’t know anything and I don’t know much, so we communicate,” Nelson said. “I think my success was having fun with them. I made it fun for them.”
He finished his football career at Athens with a 44-8-1 record including three Tennessee Valley Championships.
During his 18-year coaching career, Nelson coached basketball, baseball, football and track at Athens. He finally hung up his whistle in 1974 and finished his career as a guidance counselor at Athens.
Nelson still resides in Athens.