San Jose, CA

A football life, a football wife and the relationships needed for success in everything

Vic Aquino
Brent & Courtney Brennan, July 2000(image from: Brent Brennan)

My first meeting with San Jose State’s new football coach in 2017 was energetic. That first interview was unexpectedly transparent, surprisingly easy and oddly comfortable. Walking away afterwards, I joked to myself that I should check if I still had my wallet.

Fast-forward to current day and many interviews later with a now established head coach, there’s more energy and passion, if that’s even possible. It’s also safe to say the authenticity and genuineness of this fifth-year head coach is absolute.

Brent Brennan’s 25-year coaching career is fairly typical of a footballer’s life. Pay your dues in the high school and college ranks, move to where the coaching jobs are, and relentlessly build your reputation and knowledge of the game.

Where it splits off the beaten path a bit is when Brennan was hired without any previous college head coaching experience. San Jose State's administration gauged the tangibles and definitely the intangibles and made what looks to be a home run decision in retrospect.

Head coaching an NCAA division 1 sports program is not for the faint of heart

Your top priority is leading young people and to win, but you’re also a spokesman, recruiter, educator, influencer and communicator on and off the field. Brennan naturally embraces it all. It’s an almost always-on lifestyle that’s in the public eye than most jobs.

In the beginning, Brennan found himself at the bottom of the college football barrel. Spartan football was a doormat for many years and ridiculed mercilessly by many. There were a couple of bright spot seasons in 2006 and 2012 and before that some stretches of success in the 70s and 80s.

Brennan’s team record his first two years was 3-22. In year three, they managed a 5-7 record with signs of improvement. But typical mean-spirited comments outnumbered those signs. Many were calling for yet another change at the helm.

Mental health concerns came into question

As challenging times inevitably manifests itself in different ways for each of us, some of that negativity coming at you also spills over to those closest to you – like Brennan’s wife of 21 years, Courtney.

"Learning to address all things with regards to my (and our team’s) mental health has been a game changer,” shared Brennan. “And it started January 6, 2019.”

Brennan’s second season ended miserably with the team winning just one game in 2018. January 2019 marked the off-season start of year three.

“Coming back from Christmas break after going 1-11 was just very difficult,” reflected Brennan. “I wasn’t doing any of the things I expect my players to do. I was feeling sorry for myself, and I was just filled with self-doubt and anxiety. I knew I had to be a better version of myself going forward. It doesn’t mean I still don’t screw up, but I’m now much more intentional about my well-being on a daily basis.”

In contrast, Brennan’s 2020 season (year-four) was historic for San Jose State football

The Spartans were undefeated in the Mountain West conference and won the 2020 conference championship and an Arizona Bowl berth, where they experienced their only loss of the season. All of it during the strict and unprecedented times of COVID.

A remarkable organizational feat under the amplified duress of competition and isolation – the team spent months without seeing their families in an endless summer that didn't conclude until December 2020. Besides those who've experienced military deployments, it’s not something easy to deal with or understand for most of us.

Even through all that, there’s still some doubt from outsiders on the sustainability of Brennan’s program, even though it's technically just starting in Brennan's view.

“In the end, yes, that is the real question. Complancency is the hardest thing to fight after you have some success,” said Brennan. “It’s been since 1991-92 since we had back-to-back winning seasons, so it’s still unique in what we’re trying to do.”

Brennan continued, “We celebrated that championship moment for our team and for our university and for our fans and our students last December and when the team came back in January, outside of the ring presentation, we weren't talking about it anymore. We were back focusing on our process."

As football mirrors the trials and tribulations of life in spectacular fashion sometimes, Brennan and company are among a bigger advancement. The university itself has been going through a renaissance; more new buildings, more Silicon Valley partnerships, heightened cultural and social awareness - all towards a transformative experience for enlightened 21st century students.

With the pressure to win and to represent an enduring institution, one can start to wonder how these coaches hold it together

“Brent’s pretty tough,” said Brennan’s wife, Courtney. “He has such good friends and good people around him who he can really talk to. I’m still there for him and I'm not worried in that sense and though we’re both really independent, we check in with each other all the time.”

Both Brennan’s show the ability to not just be good spouses, but good partners and confidants in all things pertaining to their lives and those around them.

“We're really honest with each other and we’re pretty direct with each other too,” Courtney Brennan shares. “Good or bad, I feel like that makes you better when you see something in each other to share and ask for help.”

“Brent’s always been incredible with people,” she continues. “He always makes people feel important no matter who you are, which I’ve always loved about him. He’s always been like that and I like consistency because I'm a consistent person. I've always told him how important that is to me because it makes people feel like you care.”

Throughout the conversation and having previously spoken with Brennan’s wife, a couple more things became clear. She’s as tough and self-aware as her husband and probably moreso.

One might even say some of Brennan’s coaching chops comes from his wife.

“We’ve been in this business together for a long time,” said Courtney Brennan thinking back. “Brent’s worked for some awesome head coaches. We've always talked about that and how to treat people and I appreciate it all too.”

“He talks to me about all those things and I try to listen to all of his interviews,” she continues. “We talk about what he could do better, what he did great and all kinds of stuff. Because I don’t have to be there, I just get to listen and it’s really easy for me to critique.”

Standing back and listening as a whole, there are so many keys to good relationships, as it all spreads outwards to others. Picking up on one subtle key is their comfort with vulnerability, which in hindsight is equally important to being tough and strong.

"He’s awesome. I mean, he’s just a good person with a good heart and he truly does this because he wants to change lives,” she mentions, as Brennan walks back to join the interview with his wife.

Brennan and the Spartans kickoff their 2021 season in one month with still a lot to prove

The Spartans are now in training camp at Humbolt State, where it all started last year when they were on the road for months (Santa Clara County had banned all sports activities back then).

Though when this season starts, it seems more likely everyone will be able to come home and see their families each week.

“She doesn’t want me home,” joked Brennan.

“Yeah, I don’t want him home. Can you just go now?” his better-half smiled back.

Growing up around San Jose State football (his father, since passed, was a former Spartan player and mother a Spartan cheerleader), Brennan remains perpetually energetic to continue his Spartan calling.

It's also clear with the Brennan's that humor and happiness are keys to success in life too.

Comments / 0

Published by

A 50+ year San Jose-native focusing on social awareness, social good, social impact and the hidden gems and treasures of the area. Freelance journalist & sports contributor to SB Nation & SF 49ers (@VicD_SJ on Twitter).

San Jose, CA

More from Vic Aquino

Comments / 0