Larry Brown was like your grandfather.
Or at least, that’s how everyone around college basketball described him.
He was an unchallenged legend, revered as one of the game’s great teachers, a man who could parachute in to an irrelevant program in a borderline-irrelevant conference and turn it into a budding basketball hotbed.
He was old (75), small, gentle and soft-spoken. He wore little circle glasses, paced around nervously, and looked and acted like an English Lit professor.
He talked constantly about teaching kids, teaching the game, and how much he treasured being around young people.
He spoke with a humble, self-deprecating drawl, as if the words were traveling through time, passing credit to Dean Smith, and the numerous basketball influences that shaped his Hall of Fame career.
He was a true basketball treasure, though one plagued by an apparent, incessant wanderlust, a finicky anxiety that led him to make coaching stops in seven different NBA cities, at three different NCAA schools, and even two different ABA destinations.
The list of places he’s coached: University of North Carolina, Carolina Cougars (ABA), Denver Nuggets (ABA & NBA), UCLA, New Jersey Nets, University of Kansas, San Antonio Spurs (NBA), Los Angeles Clippers, Indiana Pacers, Philadelphia 76ers, Detroit Pistons, New York Knicks, Charlotte Bobcats, Southern Methodist University, Thomaston High School.
(OK, I made the last one up).
But today, as Brown’s SMU program faces NCAA sanctions after investigators determined that he lied to them, and turned his back on a case of academic fraud involving one of his players, Brown’s lovable, traveling basketball Bhudda-like image has changed.
Just watched @LarryBrownSMU press conference. It was sad. So many players and staff affected today. No choice but to move forward.
— Fran Fraschilla (@franfraschilla) September 29, 2015
Even Dick Vitale is calling for his head, and that guy is the biggest basketball homer of all-time.
This I did not expect: Dick Vitale calls for Larry Brown to be banned from college coaching. http://t.co/UUqsakYKqg
— Matt Norlander (@MattNorlander) September 29, 2015
ESPN’s Dana O’Neill also wrote a column on Tuesday slamming Brown, saying he should be banned from college coaching.
It’s one of those Tuesday Afternoon Quarterback-type deals, with that “We’re Not Surprised…Everyone Should Have Known This Was Going To Happen” lean that media members often take.
What’s funny is, I don’t remember anyone bringing this stuff up when Brown was hired at SMU. I don’t remember hearing about the postseason ban that ended UCLA’s dynastic run after Brown took them to the 1980 NCAA championship game, or the one that nearly crippled Kansas after the coach took the Jayhawks on their famous “Danny and the Miracles” ride to the 1988 NCAA title.
The NCAA infractions at Kansas were so serious that, according to Vitale, the Jayhawks were “on the bubble” of receiving the NCAA’s Death Penalty, somewhat ironically last given to SMU football in 1987.
I do remember hearing about those NCAA successes, about how Brown is the only coach in history to win championships both in college and in the NBA, and about how he brought immediate, legitimate credibility to a place that had never come close to it before.
No matter how he was covered, Larry Brown, the most complicated man in basketball coaching history, is now 3-for-3 in earning postseason bans for the schools he’s coached. This one comes courtesy of a new NCAA rule that prevents coaches from using the clueless defense to slide past NCAA violations, passing the blame on to Cris Carter-type “fall guys.”
He’s a victim of circumstance in this case, no doubt, and he probably didn’t realize that this new rule placed more (justified) responsibility on coaches to be accountable, instead of delegating the blame for cutting corners and flat-out ignoring NCAA rules. Things no doubt would have been different for Jim Calhoun at UConn had these rules been in place during the Nate Miles ordeal.
Nevertheless, Brown joins Jim Boeheim on the list of Hall of Fame coaches who are suspended for nine games of the 2015-16 season.
It’s pretty embarassing–both for him, and for those who created his gentle professor image.