Jason Brown
Cabrillo Long Beach Poly

Column: Last Chance U Showcases Local Characters

Elijah Bates, the editor at the college paper JJ and I worked at, used to say that life was like a story and the people we met were like characters. As writers, we should look for the most interesting characters to write about the same way a novelist would populate a book with characters people are interested in listening to.

In my ten years as a sportswriter, I have never encountered a more fascinating character than former Cabrillo coach Jason Brown. He was the Jaguars’ head football coach from 2011 until 2014, giving Cabrillo multiple playoff appearances and by far its most successful four-year span in school history.

He went 18-26 with four playoff appearances, but those numbers don’t tell the story of his time at Cabrillo. Brown was a controversial figure, to say the least. He brought an influx of talented transfers and was so notorious for pulling kids from other Moore League schools (especially Jordan) that he prompted the LBUSD’s rule against athletic transfers within the district, which was referred to as the “Jason Brown rule” when it was first being bandied about.

He was a loudmouth, profane figure that cussed out everyone from administrators to fellow coaches to players (and the media, on occasion). He was also a force for success–he got three kids Division 1 scholarships straight out of Cabrillo, and he schemed well enough that other coaches had to prepare for the Jags’ offense. His coaching bona fides were bona fide enough that Poly great Jerry Jaso floated him as a possible replacement for five-time CIF champion Raul Lara when Lara left Poly.

He was also a notorious liar. JJ, Tyler Hendrickson and I made a careful habit of writing “according to Brown” after literally everything the coach would say to make it clear that we were reporting what his viewpoint was.

He’s one of those people you run across in Long Beach sports where you wonder what people on a national stage would think of him. Well, with last week’s premiere of Last Chance U on Netflix, we’re getting a chance to find out. LCU is an award-winning sports documentary that chronicles a season in the life of a JuCo football program, and in 2017 they focused on Independence College in Kansas, coached by none other than Brown.

This is the part where I should note that Tyler and I both sat down for a few hours with the LCU crew to give some thoughts on Brown and Malik Henry, the former Poly quarterback who was bounced from Florida State and ended up at Independence with Brown. When we were contacted by the show’s executive producer, Greg Whiteley, I told him, “Greg, I’ve been hoping for this phone call since I heard you guys were going to Kansas.”

I had fun recounting some of the crazier stories we’d heard about Brown (an avid user of chewing tobacco, he once “ accidentally” spat dip on the shoes of a rival coach), and it’s been crazy to watch American see those stories and more on their televisions this last week week. Brown’s bombastic personality and Henry’s tragic combination of talent and self-sabotage have been the talk of social media, and I’ve gotten texts from what feels like half the city about the show.

As for my personal opinions about the subjects? I’ve never seen it as my role as a sportswriter and journalist to pass judgment in one direction or the other. I will say that it’s rare to see someone put in as much time and love at Cabrillo as Brown did, and I understood the administration’s loyalty to him even as he became a more and more controversial figure. That doesn’t mean I condone his coaching or recruiting tactics, of course.

There’s also this: as a writer, I follow my friend Eli’s advice and try to find the most interesting characters around for our readers. In ten years, there haven’t been many characters like Brown. Now America, like Long Beach, gets to sit back and enjoy the show.

Mike Guardabascio and Tyler Hendrickson on Last Chance U
Mike Guardabascio
An LBC native, Mike Guardabascio has been covering Long Beach sports professionally for 13 years, with his work published in dozens of Southern California magazines and newspapers. He's won numerous awards for his writing as well as the CIF Southern Section’s Champion For Character Award, and is the author of three books about Long Beach history.