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Willie Brown, who won national championships at USC as a player and coach in both football and baseball, dies at 76

Willie Brown, who won national championships at USC as a player and coach in both football and baseball, dies at 76
USC's sensational halfback Willie Brown tears through the UCLA defense in a 14-3 win on Nov. 24, 1962 by the Trojans. (Los Angeles Times)

Willie Brown, the former USC star who was the original tailback at Tailback U., has died. He was 76.

According to the school, Brown died in Carson on Thursday of cancer.

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The first I-formation tailback in John McKay’s offense, Brown was a two-time all-conference selection who played on the 1962 national championship team and captained the ’63 team.

He led the Trojans in rushing and kickoff returns in 1962, and receiving and scoring the following year. A two-way athlete who was the CIF football player of the year at Long Beach Poly in 1959, Brown also led USC in interceptions both seasons.

Brown also played center fielder and shortstop on the USC baseball team, including the 1963 squad that won the College World Series.

He later played two seasons for the Los Angeles Rams (1964-65), and one with the Philadelphia Eagles (1966), before returning to USC to work as an assistant football coach under McKay. He was also an NFL assistant coach, and a restaurant franchisee.

“He was one of the best athletes Southern California has ever had,” said Ronnie Bradford, his college roommate and longtime friend. “He was a great guy and an unbelievably humble person.”

From 1996 to 2016, Brown was an academic monitor in USC’s Student-Athlete Academic Services.

“Players gravitated to Willie, they wanted to talk to him,” said friend Jim Hefner, a former assistant basketball coach for the Trojans. “Not because he was a great athlete, but because he was interested in people. He was a great sounding board.”

Brown is survived by his wife, Carole; son, Brian; daughter, Kimberly; and two grandchildren.

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