By Chris Gionta
For 24 years, Blake Arena came to grow familiar with the 6-foot-5, intimidating presence that occupied the James Naismith Court sideline. His stare could muddle even the most experienced of referees, and his bellowing voice could stop any one of his players in their place. Now, the Springfield faithful are forced to give a farewell to Charlie Brock.
The longtime head coach of the Springfield men’s basketball team coached in six different decades, and therefore built an abundance of relationships along the way. When he announced his retirement on March 1, people from around the country congratulated him on his storied career.
“I spent time in four parts of the country. I was here, then I left here for New Jersey, then I went to Minnesota, then Texas and back, so I’ve crossed paths with a lot of people in a lot of different places. Some people have literally come out of the woodwork,” Brock said.
“Coaching associates and guys that have worked for me and that I’ve worked with over 45 years — I’ve heard from a lot of them.”
His coaching career began almost immediately after his playing career on Alden Street. He graduated from Springfield College in 1976 and started coaching beside Ed Bilik, who led the Pride men’s basketball team for 21 years. The condition of the school was much different in Brock’s first years at Springfield than they were in his final years.
“When I first started playing, we had to take the old fieldhouse — it was called Memorial Fieldhouse — it was literally an airplane hangar,” Brock said. “And the floor that we used had to be laid out every year for the season. It was put away and stacked away and stored in the offseason in a room, and every year we had to put the floor up.”
After Brock finished graduate school in 1980, he was hired as head coach of the Drew University men’s basketball team in New Jersey.
He coached there for six years, then at Gustavus Adolphus College for three years, before taking the reins at Trinity University for nine years.
In 1998, his alma mater had an opening in the head coaching role. There was appeal to remain at Trinity for Brock as the Tigers were coming off their best season during his tenure, and the sultry San Antonio sun is more comforting during the basketball season than the brisk conditions of the northeast.
However, factors not involving on-the-court elements or general climate convinced Brock to return to Springfield.
“I actually literally came to Springfield because of teaching,” Brock said. “It was clearly a basketball job, but to me, I came from a place where we taught a couple of classes, and they were elective physical education classes. They were fine, they were fun, and they actually had high enrollment. But, I wanted to be in what I thought was a more serious academic endeavor.”
He has embraced the classroom setting as much as the hardwood, and has brought a passion for physical education to a multitude of students.
“Most of my time has been spent in what was called Heritage & Values of Physical Education in Sport, which is history and philosophy and foundations,” Brock said.
He has arguably been just as much a part of the educational development at Springfield as the athletic development.
“I enjoyed being a member of the faculty, and I’ve been on a bunch of different things as far as committees here at Springfield,” Brock said. “We’re a little bit of a different entity here. When we’re coaching, we’re teaching and [coaches] have a vital role in the academic side of things.”
A lot of success came after he took on the head coaching role at the Birthplace. He turned in an respectable 356-268 record with the Pride – good for a .571 winning percentage. Along with that, he led seven teams to the NCAA Tournament including six to 20-win seasons.
Yet, what largely surfaces Brock’s mind when reflecting on his coaching career at Springfield comes away from the court.
“People ask me, and have always asked, ‘what do you do for team building?’ We don’t do any team building. What we do is we go out and we dig gardens and we clear beds and we paint porches, and we cut weeds down at the gray house,” Brock said. “We do stuff together that’s in service to somebody that can’t get it done otherwise, and that’s how we build what we do.”
Community service has been a staple of the Springfield men’s basketball team, and it does not stop with helping around houses.
“During January and intercession, we’ve got a reading program, which we haven’t been able to do for the last couple of years because we couldn’t go in the schools,” Brock said. “But, typically, I’ve got these books, and we go into a school and promote reading. We buy a bazillion T-shirts and give them out to the kids if they read books. And I think it’s been a very rewarding thing. It’s a win-win with my guys and the students of the schools that we go into.”
Brock also reflects heavily on the basketball committees he served on. He was one of the National Association of Basketball Coaches (NABC) Board of Directors. Additionally, he served five years on the NCAA Men’s Basketball Rules Committee, and he filled prestigious roles such as president of the NABC for the 2018-19 academic year, and chairman of NCAA Division III Men’s Basketball Committee in 2010.
“I’ve been so lucky,” Brock said. “I was on the NCAA Rules Committee (…) and that’s an amazing committee because that’s all divisions, all together, all in a room and you’re making decisions based on the betterment of basketball.”
When thoughts about ending his long and accomplished career appeared in his mind, he did not approach the decision process lightly. Ultimately, there were a variety of reasons he chose this time as his to retire.
“It was completely my decision, and it was in no way, shape or form a knee-jerk reaction to anything — COVID, winning/losing — none of the above,” Brock stated. “It was a matter of what I say is time and timing. And I felt as last year progressed, and this year progressed, it was getting time for me. I was having trouble standing for two hours at practice. I’m old — I got a lot of miles and they’re not good miles.”
Along with his physical state being a reason to retire, he identified the state of the young Pride roster as a reason to hand the reins to someone who will develop the team over time.
“In the case of the team, the way it’s constituted now, there are so many first-year guys that are going to get a new coach and have three years to work together to be really great,” Brock said.
He will be enjoying retirement the same way many do by spending time on the links and with their family.
“I’m sure golf is in the future — excessive golf is in the future,” Brock said. “And I’ve got my kids here, and I’ve got my life partner here for a while.”
After 45 years of coaching basketball, he has had a lot of experiences with an abundance of players. Despite his stern demeanor that he regularly sports, especially in the heat of competition, many of those players will remember Brock for the intrapersonal connections behind the scenes.
“He’s caring of you,” said senior guard for the men’s basketball team Daryl Costa. “No matter what he may say, or what he may do, he’s always there for you and always caring for you.”
Blake Arena will not be the same without the menacing presence of the veteran head coach. Yet, Brock has made the difficult decision of subbing himself out in order to hand the privilege of coaching Springfield men’s basketball to another person ready to imprint their legacy on Alden Street in the same manner he did.
Photo: Joe Arruda/The Student