Love at first kick
When Denise Schilte-Brown, then a junior at the University of Maryland- Baltimore District (UMBC), finished a soccer match in the summer of 1996 with her club team the Baltimore Bays, she walked across the field when a player from the male team caught her eye.
Chris Brown, who had recently graduated from American University, was warming up when he saw her.
They exchanged smiles.
“Love at first sight” may be cliché, but after catching up the next day, Denise and Chris, now the head coach and associate coach of the women’s soccer team, respectively, began a journey that led them to become the husband-wife coaching duo they are today.
As a junior, Denise began dating Chris before the two went on to play professionally.
Denise, having played for the Canadian National Team in 1997, went to Germany for two seasons in the Women’s Bundesliega professional league while Chris played for professional teams, such as the Richmond Kickers of the A-league in Virginia.
Despite the long distance relationship, they managed and fate, they said, would soon put them back in the same country.
Denise began coaching for her alma mater in 1998 when Chris was still in Richmond. Though UMBC found its coach in Denise, the team didn’t have an assistant.
In his offseason and whenever he was allowed free time, Chris would travel to Maryland to help his then-girlfriend during her two-year stint with the team.
Denise was offered her second head-coaching job in 2000 — this time for Virginia Commonwealth.
While the offer brought Denise closer to Chris, he had already accepted an offer to play in Indiana for another club team.
Chris requested a release back to Richmond and, given the circumstances, he went back to Virginia where he coached part-time with Denise.
He eventually began coaching full-time, leaving his role as a player behind in 2004.
Before he did that in 2001, though, Chris asked Denise a very important question. He asked her on a date, a hiking date specifically.
They hiked near the James River which runs right through Richmond, eventually ending up on Brown’s Island where the two shared a bench.
Chris got down on one knee and pulled out a ring. Denise said yes.
The duo went on to coach seven seasons at VCU where they would compile a 77-51-17 record that included a conference championship and an appearance in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
Though marriage is considered hard enough for some and throwing coaching into the mix could seem difficult, Denise said she never saw it as an obstacle.
“I’ve never felt like it was a challenge, it was a blessing,” she said. “Maybe for some people it’s a challenge, but I feel like it’s enhanced our lives. We have very different personalities and our strengths align to make us a good team.”
During their playing days, Denise was on the attack, while Chris was a defender.
“Our mentality on the field is different,” Denise said. “I’m a high-risk, creative, high-intensity attacking player (and coach) and he’s a responsible, mature, defensive-minded player and coach. In the office, we balance. Chris is very task-oriented and works very hard on long hours and enjoys the hunt for the next great player and getting work done. And I really enjoy building the relationships necessary to sun a Division-I program with the staff, players and media.”
In their seven seasons with USF, the two have helped the Bulls to big runs in the conference tournament, with semifinal appearances in the Big East in 2012 and the American Athletic Conference the next season.
But just before arriving at USF, while still at VCU, the couple would start to oversee something more than their student athletes — Denise gave birth to twins, Ethan and Kenza, on June 1, 2005.
“Our twins are eight now and since the day they were born, they brought that balance to our lives which was a blessing because they take up every ounce of energy and love we have the minute we see them,” Denise said. “When we pick them up from school there’s a focus that happens naturally to be the best parents we can be. “
The balance their twins brought was one between soccer and life at home.
Before having children, Denise and Chris would watch games twice at a time. Denise said the passion they had for soccer made it hard for them to turn off their coaching switch. 12