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SMU: Better Off Without Larry Brown

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The Southern Methodist University Mustangs opted against re-signing a Hall of Fame coach and it was the best decision for them. Larry Brown’s four year tenure with the school ended last week. He had one year remaining on his contract. There was a gap between what the school offered and what Larry Brown desired. This may seem like a hazy and questionable process for the end of a Hall of Famer’s career, but it was quite predictable considering where he has been. SMU had no choice but to move on if they wanted their program to succeed in the near future.

Larry Brown is a winner.  That is for sure. He won over 1,000 games in the NBA, 200 in the ABA and over 250 in the NCAA.  He took the 1979-80 UCLA Bruins to the Final Four, won the National Title with Kansas in 1988, took the 76ers to the NBA Finals in 2001 and won an NBA Championship with the Detroit Pistons in 2004. He is the only coach to ever win an NBA and NCAA title. That is the bright side of Larry Brown and it is the reason that he obtained the Mustangs’ job one year after the Charlotte Bobcats fired him.

The dark side of Larry Brown is a story of instability and scandal. His restless soul cannot remain in one place for too long. Larry Brown became the coach of the Davidson Wildcats in 1969. He never coached a game. Brown’s UCLA squad had their Final Four appearance vacated for recruiting violations. He was the Bruins coach for three seasons. He then bolted for the NBA. The 1988 Kansas team was found guilty of violations and disqualified from contention in the 1989 NCAA Tournament. Brown jumped ship for the NBA again. The New York Kicks fired Brown during that stint and ended up with a huge payday. Michael Jordan had to cut Brown’s tenure with the Charlotte Bobcats short after a few lackluster seasons. The point being, that wherever Brown goes drama and scandal follow no matter how short of a time he is there.

His time at SMU was no exception. After the program was found guilty of academic fraud, the Mustangs were ineligible for the 2016 NCAA Tournament. Brown sat out nine games for his involvement. Even though he was not involved with the violations directly, he did not report them properly and for that reason the NCAA handed him a suspension. To Brown’s credit, the team started 18-0 and was a legitimate contender for an NCAA title in a year with no dominant force in college basketball. The Mustangs had a chance to make some legitimate noise in the postseason. This was, in large part, due to the play of star Nic Moore. Moore was a transfer from Tim Jankovich’s Illinois State squad. However, as per usual, Brown’s extracurricular activities blockaded any chance they had.

Brown did bring notoriety back to SMU. The program had one winning season from 2003 to 2012. However, yet again, Larry Brown wore out his welcome very shortly. At the age of 75, it was reported that Brown wanted a five year deal. The school was only willing to give him a deal in the arena of two to three years. After the hiring of Brown, Tim Jankovich entered the fray with the intention of being the successor at the program.

SMU decided that five years was too many. On top of the fact that Brown has shown a tendency to flee after short periods of time, any momentum that the program would build in the next few years would unravel at the changing of hands at the coaching positions. Tim Jankovich was a successful coach at Illinois State and now has a few years of experience under Brown. So more than just the factor of his age led to this decision.

The SMU program faced a crossroads in the past few seasons negotiating with their coach. Although he brings them success, he does not promise them success long into the future due to age and history. He also caused violations and lacked program control, something not unknown in his career. SMU weighed their options and made the right choice.  As can be seen, giving Brown what he wants, stunts the growth of the program.

Nevertheless, Larry Brown will always be revered as one of the better coaches in history. He accomplished a feat that no one else could in two titles at two levels. That does not change the fact that it was just time to hang them up. Overall, his career is a difficult one to put a positive or negative summation on. What is clear is what is happening now. The Southern Methodist Mustangs and Larry Brown are parting ways. It was the best decision for SMU. Now we wait to see what Brown does next.


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