Gardner informed him that an end-of-season review was coming and he laid out the reasons why.
He and his board had been concerned about the events of the past month or so after the Knights’ finals hopes fell off a cliff. They’d won six straight to nail down a top-eight spot. Not too much later they lost six in a row.
Just as disturbing had been Brown’s rationale when asked by the press to explain it, admitting he should have rested his five Origin players.
There was the messy business involving centre Jesse Ramien. Brown had told him he didn’t have a future at the club, dumped him from the NRL side — and then watched on as Manly flogged his side 30-6 in a match the Knights had to win.
There was also the inescapable fact that Brown had a roster that included Pearce, Klemmer and the game’s most dynamic player, Kalyn Ponga. This wasn’t a side that should be creeping into the eight but knocking on the front door of the top four.
Meanwhile, in the background, exterior forces were in the ear of Gardner and other directors, telling them there were better options out there ready to do the job.
So, when Brown met with Gardner again on Monday, the no-bullshit former Dragons hooker from the tiny town of Maclean on the NSW Northern Rivers, took control of the situation.
“I’ll make it easy for you,” he said. “Let me coach out the rest of the season and I’ll go after that.”
With his side coming off a 42-6 thumping of the Cowboys, and still in mathematical contention for the finals, it might seem like a weird play — but it’s a smart one.
Brown leaves with his head held high and his reputation reasonably intact. He also avoids the embarrassment of being dumped in the off-season following a brutal review.
Should the Knights reach the finals, he’ll be at the front queue when a coach gets sacked early next year.
But his sudden departure surprises.
When the Knights lost their first five games, and the calls for Brown to go stirred, the board stood firm.
The club was still recovering from the Nathan Tinkler apocalypse when Brown became coach in 2016. “This will get worse before it gets better,” he told the interim board put in place by the NRL.
When the Wests Group bought the club on November 1, 2017, it promised stability. They weren’t keen on sacking the coach less than two years into their ownership, and the feeling was Brown would, on that count alone, survive.
With Kalyn Ponga and Mitchell Pearce contracted for another two seasons, the Knights are ripe for a premiership under the right coach.
Within seconds of the news of his resignation breaking, Gardner’s phone buzzed. It was veteran agent Wayne Beavis, who looks after out-of-work coaches Trent Barrett, Anthony Griffin and Shane Flanagan.
As this column understands it, the Knights aren’t keen on a recycled coach — but finding the right replacement outside of the usual suspects already appears to be problematic.
Favourite son Danny Buderus, a former assistant and then interim Knights coach when Rick Stone was sacked in 2015, has been suggested but he’s already told those close to him he isn’t interested.
The three best prospects on the assistant coach conveyer belt are the Roosters’ Adam O’Brien and Craig Fitzgibbon, as well as the Storm’s Jason Ryles.
Brown had tried to get Ryles — his former Dragons teammate — to the Knights last year but failed. He’s highly regarded by the Storm but is he ready for this just yet?
Fitzgibbon, who is also a former teammate of Brown’s and the current NSW defensive coach, has only just agreed to stay at the Roosters for another three years.
O’Brien is widely considered the Next Big Thing in coaching, having done his apprenticeship at the Storm before the Roosters lured him away this season.
He got the Storm’s attack going last year, then the Roosters’ this year, and he’s said to have a superb rapport with the players.
He was approached for the Titans job but said he had no desire to leave Trent Robinson. He is contracted until 2021 and has an understanding that he won’t take up a head coach’s role until the end of next season.
Whether O’Brien’s management want to force the issue should the Knights come knocking remains to be seen.
For their part, the Knights need to get this right as much as anyone.
In many respects, they hold all the cards because the office Brown is vacating is one of the best in the NRL.
With Wests Group behind them, they are financially secure — something the Knights have never been able to boast.
They have first-class facilities, playing out of a world-class stadium, with the Hunter Valley providing a deep pool of junior talent.
With Ponga and Pearce contracted for another two seasons, the Knights are ripe for a premiership under the right coach.
Brown nursed the club through the most tumultuous period in its history. People should never forget that. Who follows him will be just as critical to the club’s future.
Andrew Webster is Chief Sports Writer of The Sydney Morning Herald.