Hubbard: Larry Brown to SMU? Priceless

Coach Larry BrownIn his Hall of Fame career, Larry Brown has coached NBA teams to 1,520 victories in the regular season and playoffs, led ABA teams to 271 victories and college teams to 177 victories. For those counting, Brown has left a basketball game 1,968 times as a winner.

That means at his next stop, Brown is very likely to celebrate win No. 2,000 and he made it clear last week that he certainly would like to have a next stop.

“I just want to be a resource in some way, or coach or be involved – whether it’s as an assistant, or head coach, or if they want me to mentor somebody,” Brown told Brad Townsend of the Dallas Morning News . He then went on to say, “I’m going to be doing something in basketball, whether it’s in the NBA as a coach or a GM or an assistant, whatever, or something in college. I don’t know what, but I just feel like I need to stay on and pass along what I’ve been taught.”

Townsend was interviewing the 71-year-old Brown because there had been some whispers that Brown was attracted by the open SMU head coaching position in Dallas. When asked point blank if he’d be interested in the job, Brown said:

“Absolutely.”

Besides compiling 1,968 victories, Brown has established himself as one of the great eye-rollers in sports history. And that’s among his friends.

As basketball fans know, Brown has coached 10 professional teams and two college teams. His longest tenure at one job was six years in Philadelphia. He was at a job two or fewer years in six places. It has often been the case with Brown that when he is somewhere, he’s happiest thinking about being somewhere else.

But SMU? Yes, it’s a Division I program that has played basketball for 95 seasons. But not very successfully. The Mustangs have made only 10 NCAA appearances and had one trip to the Final Four – in 1956. At their last home game this year, 3,300 attended.

And Larry’s interested?

Absolutely.

And thousands of Brown’s friends rolled their eyes again. That’s just Larry being Larry. SMU? Come on.

But Villanova coach Jay Wright, who has welcomed Brown to his practices the last two seasons, explained Brown to the New York Daily News.

“He needs to coach like he needs oxygen,” Wright said. “He needs to be part of something. It’s what drives him. He just loves it so much.”

Brown to SMU creates a mild personal dilemma for me. I am a graduate of SMU and like any alumnus, I’d enjoy seeing my alma mater be more successful.

At the same time, I’ve found the tendency of writers to openly cheer for their favorite teams a little uncomfortable. I was trained at a time when there were exacting rules on showing or not showing allegiance to a team.

It still is common in press boxes across the country for an announcement to be made saying, “This is a professional working environment. There will be no cheering in the press box.” Keep in mind that announcement is made by the home team.

The proliferation of sports coverage on radio, cable TV and on the web has changed the makeup of those commenting on or analyzing sports. I recently had a conversation with a top executive at a Dallas radio station and he said matter-of-factly:

“We’re different in radio than journalists. We’re more like fans. We don’t have the training you guys have and, really, we have a different purpose. Guys in radio actually depend on writers to analyze sports, and then our job is to talk to the fans about it.”

And that’s fine. But I do have to say the trend among writers to wave the home team flag is something I find a little strange. What’s next? Showing up to work at a game wearing a replica jersey? And if you are truly going to analyze a situation and either praise or criticize it, isn’t it important to have the credibility of impartiality?

Actually, I can answer my own questions. In this day and age with the variety of mediums, there’s room for both. But I have to say to some of my friends who talk about their favorite teams or how they are big fans of certain teams, why don’t you back off a little bit and tell us what is happening, not what you want to happen. And I simply refuse to believe any professional journalist is crushed when a team he or she covers loses.

Having said all of that, I do find my feelings interesting in the case of Brown. If he is interested, SMU should leap at the chance to hire him. Yes, he’s 71. Yes, he is perpetually restless. Yes, SMU will be fortunate if he’s around for three years.

But he is the only coach to have won an NBA and NCAA title. And not only is Brown one of the greatest coaches in basketball history, but also one of the most famous. When you are in essence a mid-major seeking to join the big boys, fame is good.

It’s good for publicity; it’s good for recruits; and it’s good for young coaches. Brown said he is interested in being a mentor. Good. He could hire a few young guys for the staff and when he leaves, someone can get promoted. There is absolutely no doubt that Larry Brown will improve the quality of play and make even the current players better.

SMU has made a major commitment to sports, but Dallas is a tough place for a college to be successful. The area is dominated by the Cowboys. Last year, the Mavericks won the NBA title and the Rangers made their second consecutive World Series.

Not a lot of room left in the local papers for a school that saw a basketball team score 28 points in a 40-minute game this year. And not a lot of reason for fans to invest in tickets. Forget the money; there was simply not a good show.

But SMU is renovating its 55-year-old arena and already has built a state-of-the-art basketball practice facility. Athletic director Steve Orsini has been an excellent fundraiser and has raised enough money among influential boosters to pay football coach June Jones $2 million a year.

Orsini seems determined to do the same with basketball and hire a top coach. Two of his early targets were Buzz Williams, who chose to stay at Marquette, and Bruce Weber, who took the open Kansas State job.

There has been nothing official out of SMU about Brown, and it does seem the odds are against it. But it is a fascinating possibility. Perhaps only someone like Larry Brown could put SMU – which moves to the Big East in 2013 – on the basketball map.

It would be a great story if it happened – good for alums who want to see the program become a better one, and one that even the most impartial analyst would say is a huge step forward for the school.

Jan Hubbard has written about basketball since 1976 and worked in the NBA league office for eight years in between media stints. Follow him on Twitter at @whyhub.

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