PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — Brown football is saying goodbye to a legend who leaves behind a rich legacy. After 21 seasons as head football coach at Brown University, Phil Estes stepped down from his position on Monday, Nov. 19, two days after the Bears’ final game of the 2018 season.
Estes departs as the second-winningest coach in the program’s 141-year history and as No. 9 on the list of wins among head football coaches in the history of the Ivy League. He became Brown’s 19th head football coach in 1998, four years after joining the team as running backs coach and recruiting coordinator.
“For the last 21 seasons, Phil Estes simply was Brown football,” said Jack Hayes, director of athletics at the University. “From Ivy League titles to national scoring records, to outstanding student-athlete academic performance, the vast majority of this team’s greatest accomplishments have been a direct result of his superb coaching and recruiting skills. We are tremendously thankful for his leadership and dedication.”
“Brown University took a chance on me more than two decades ago, and the rest is history,” Estes said. “I’m deeply grateful to Brown for the opportunity to have coached this team and so many outstanding players. Brown has been a wonderful home for me and for my family.”
Under Estes’ leadership, the Bears reached an unprecedented level of success. He guided the team to three Ivy League championships in 1999, 2005 and 2008 — a striking accomplishment given that prior to his arrival, the University had only won one championship since the league’s inception in 1956.
With 115 wins in his career as head coach, Estes trails only Edward North Robinson, who amassed 140 wins over 25 seasons at Brown in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Estes’ victories in the Ivy League — 76 wins over 21 seasons — are the sixth highest of any coach in league history and are unmatched by any other Brown football coach.
“Phil built a truly exceptional record, not just for Brown football, but more importantly for the generations of student-athletes who came to Brown passionate about playing the game,” Hayes said.
Over the course of his tenure at Brown, Estes earned a national reputation for exceptional coaching on the offensive side of the ball. In his first 32 games as head coach, his teams surpassed the 1,000-point mark, averaging 31.9 points per game; no other coach in University history reached that milestone so quickly. In the 2005 season, his team ranked 10th nationally in scoring with an average of 36.8 points per game.
Estes’ coaching created opportunities for many Bears players to become All-Americans and NCAA statistical leaders. During his tenure, three Brown student-athletes were named finalists for the Walter Payton Award, given annually to the most outstanding offensive player in the NCAA Division I Football Championship Subdivision.
With a number of Estes’ players advancing to the National Football League, five have captured Super Bowl victories, including two-time champion James Develin of the New England Patriots (2015, 2017), two-time winner Zak DeOssie of the New York Giants (2008, 2012), the Pittsburgh Steelers’ Sean Morey (2006), and New England Patriots’ Drew Inzer (2002) and Chas Gessner (2004).
Estes ensured that academic performance for the Bears’ student-athletes remained a priority for each and every player, according to Hayes. This year, the National Football Foundation’s Hampshire Honor Society, which recognizes college football players who maintain a high grade point average, honored 17 Bears football players, making Brown the second-highest performing university among the nation’s football programs. In 2017, Brown led the nation with 18 honorees.
Estes arrived at Brown in 1994 following a three-year stint as offensive coordinator at the University of New Hampshire, where he also played football as a student. He served as Brown’s running backs coach and recruiting coordinator for three seasons and receivers coach for one season before taking on the role of head coach.
In a 2009 interview with Brown Alumni Magazine, Estes recalled guiding the Bears in 1999 to their first Ivy League title in more than 20 years.
“The first championship,” Estes said, “was just one of those things where you were in awe because it hadn’t been done in so long. You saw the appreciation of alums, of players, of administrators. Everybody got involved. They tore the goalposts down. It was like something that had never happened before.”
Estes said in the interview that the early success nearly overwhelmed him. “I felt I could just crumble to my knees and take it all in and enjoy it,” he said. “I was so happy for so many people that I had heard from who didn't believe that Brown was ever going to get back on track.”
Hayes said Brown will begin a search for its next head football coach immediately.