GCU icon Dave Brazell passes away
By Paul Coro
GCU News Bureau
Dr. Dave Brazell, a legend in Grand Canyon athletics and academics, passed away Wednesday at age 93 after a long battle with cancer.
David Burl Brazell served as a coach, teacher and administrator in Grand Canyon athletics and academics for 50 years (1951-2001), leaving an eternal impression with his character, charisma and competition.
Brazell is most remembered for his 28 seasons at the helm of Lopes baseball, a program he founded in 1953. Grand Canyon baseball did not get bleachers, grass or a win until the following season, but he built a program that he guided to an NAIA national ranking by 1967 and an NAIA national championship in 1980.
Brazell went 728-385-8 as the head coach of a baseball program whose home is called Brazell Field at GCU Ballpark, the stadium that opened in February around the original field Brazell designed in 1962. Brazell joined students with picks and shovels to dig the first dugouts for a field that remains where he chalked lines and manicured the grass.
“Nobody probably has contributed more to Grand Canyon University over the years than Dave and Mildred Brazell,” GCU president Brian Mueller said of Brazell and his wife of 72 years. “They have made countless contributions to the University and impacted thousands of lives from an academic, athletic and spiritual life perspective.
“Even in their retirement, they continued to be strong, loyal supporters of the University. Their presence on our campus made a strong impact on the faculty, staff and students. Coach Brazell will be missed by the administration, faculty and alumni, but his life has served as a role model for so many of us. His leadership role, his academic role, his coaching role, his commitment to his family, his commitment to his faith and his commitment to his community has been a tremendous model and inspiration for thousands of students.”
In baseball, Brazell won NAIA Coach of the Year twice along with eight NAIA District Coach of the Year awards and four NAIA Area II championships. He sent two players (Frank Snook and Tom Tellman) to Major League Baseball but also successfully coached Lopes men’s basketball and men’s golf teams and headed the athletic department.
Brazell was a longstanding basketball season-ticket holder, sitting with his wife of 72 years, Mildred, and a baseball bat cane on GCU Arena’s north baseline. Few there knew that Brazell coached the program’s only undefeated season (20-0) in 1958-59.
After serving in the Marines and coaching at an Arkansas high school, Brazell came to Grand Canyon in 1951 when the campus moved from Prescott to Phoenix. Originally, he was the 2-year-old school’s head coach for its only sport — basketball. He coached the men’s basketball team for 13 years and chaired the health and physical education department, where Mildred also taught for 38 years.
When basketball and baseball seasons began to overlap, Brazell chose to focus on baseball but also later led the men’s golf program to a 2000 NCAA Division II national runner-up finish.
“As much as he was proud of the guys he coached who made it to the majors, he was even more proud of all the men and women he had in class that became physical education coaches and teachers and helped educate generation upon generation after that,” said Keith Baker, who pitched for Brazell’s national championship team and served as a Lopes athletic administrator and coach for 35 years. “That was one of his greatest legacies to the University. Yes, he stood for athletic success and had great success in everything he put his hand into. His commitment to doing things the right way and hard work generated positive results, if not on the external, for you internally. It created a perseverance in those who played for him that told them they could achieve and succeed.”
Brazell, also a Pac-10 and WAC football official, turned down offers elsewhere to stay true to Grand Canyon, which inducted him into its Athletics Hall of Fame in 1989 and retired his No. 20.
“I’m proud,” Brazell said in February. “We worked hard and we got good players in there and that’s the key thing. Some people say that the coaching is overemphasized. You do your coaching in the summertime when you contact players and get good ones in there.”
His humility and selflessness influenced youngsters and gained the respect of his peers. The “Canyon way” was really Brazell’s honorable way.
“Find your purpose at Grand Canyon … Coach was doing that long before it become a tagline, and he embodied that,” Baker said. “That’s evident in not only his commitment to Grand Canyon but the fact that he and Mrs. B were together 72 years as a married couple.”
Grand Canyon’s baseball home was dedicated to him in 1989 but he, Mildred and their children, Don and Diane, appreciated that his name and his field design was maintained with the new venue.
“In one sense, it meant a ton more to those who played for Coach and knew him that the University would retain his name,” Baker said. “Coach was always one who deflected that type of praise. Was he grateful? Absolutely. It represented to him that the things Grand Canyon stood for in its inception are true to this day. It was validation that all those things he did for all those years were worthwhile because the school still believes in those things.”
Brazell periodically would go to the field’s neighboring parking garage to take sneak peeks at the construction of Brazell Field at GCU Ballpark, where a Division I program has benefited from his legacy and continued involvement.
“Today, we lost a hero,” GCU eighth-year head baseball coach Andy Stankiewicz said. “A man that epitomizes character, strength and leadership. Coach Brazell has been such a light for all of us, not just the baseball community. Always quick to give an encouraging word or share a story that had meaning beyond the game of baseball. He is the one that built the foundation of what GCU baseball is today. We are all very proud and honored to continue his legacy. Coach will be dearly missed, but his influence in our lives will never stop.”