The 55-year-old Brennan, by contrast, is all flatlander, a New Jersey guy whose home in Colchester fronts Lake Champlain. He had a comfortable enough gig as coach at Yale when Vermont came calling in 1986. Figuring he could wheedle himself a better deal in New Haven, he marched into athletic director Frank Ryan's office to announce that he had been offered another job. "I think you should take it," said Ryan. And so Brennan hauled his bruised ego north. "If you want to make God smile," he says, "just tell him your plans."
After three seasons spent pitying himself over Vermont's nine lousy basketball scholarships and emphasis on hockey, Brennan grumbled to his wife, Lynn, that the school lacked commitment. "You were 14-68, and they didn't fire you," she replied. "That's commitment." End of grumbling.
Brennan rejects many coachly conventions. The mind-set of worrying about the next game the moment you hit the tunnel is not for him. "When we win on Saturday and don't have to play again till the following Thursday, that's the greatest feeling in the world," he says. Brennan would rather be a mensch like his late father, Joe, the longtime mayor of Phillipsburg, N.J., and phone new coaches to welcome them to the league or drag a visiting coach to his favorite haunts on Burlington's Church Street. "At first, some think it's a trick," says Tom's sister, Noreen Pecsok, the women's coach at Middlebury (Vt.) College. "Then they realize he's not trying to get you drunk and steal your out-of-bounds plays."
Vermont is still an arriviste among mid-majors. If not for his radio duties Brennan wouldn't make six figures, and until a year ago he didn't get a full complement of 13 scholarships. In a way, he's still near the bottom of the caste system he got to know as a player at Georgia, where, after he was whistled for a phantom foul on LSU's Pete Maravich in 1970, an SEC ref told him, "Hey, they're not here to see you." Nonetheless, as Brennan puts it, "in this business, to be totally at peace isn't something easy to come by." Indeed, to be in the business at all is something he pinches himself over every day. Coppenrath and Sorrentine are players so rare that Brennan has announced he'll go for a third straight NCAA bid--"like Smarty Jones," he says--then step down at the end of this season. "I'll be able to motivate them better," he adds. "I can say, 'I'm a senior too.'"
In 1992 Cormier invited Brennan to read the sports scores during The Steve Cormier Morning Show. Within three days Cormier told him, "Every time I open my mike, I'm going to open yours. We'll go wherever we go." The show, soon renamed Corm and the Coach, rose to the top of the state's morning drive-time ratings, from which it has looked down at Howard Stern and Don Imus during almost every Arbitron period since--a run that Brennan likens to " Vermont going to Kentucky and winning."
Shortly before 6 a.m. most weekdays Brennan slides into his broadcast seat, next to a photo of Nipsey Russell and a copy of 1,001 Riddles for Children. He and Cormier might wake up a rival school's coach, make sport of New Hampshire or chat up some Vermont notable. (Former governor Howard Dean to Brennan: "I didn't have as good a year as you." Brennan in reply: "Better start, though.") Once a week they check in with Brennan's brother Dan, who has his own hit drive-time show in Mobile. (One of the characters Dan plays on the air is Dr. Cory Windblown, an openly gay meteorologist.) And the coach regularly whips up doggerel like this, from a paean to Lynn several years ago on Valentine's Day:
So thank you for bringing joy to my
life, every crisis you get me through
I was just kidding about that Coppenrath
thing, I don't love him more than you