It’s easy to forget, but along with Texas A&M going to the SEC and the Big 12 taking in TCU and West Virginia this year, two Texas schools are joining the Big East come the 2013 football season. And while that means SMU and Houston now have a chance to compete for an automatic BCS berth, it also means they’re in the country’s most competitive NCAA basketball conference.
So, having fired six-year head coach Matt Doherty in March, SMU athletic director Steve Orsini made a hire that’s both splashy and a lightning rod for criticism—or rather, it’s a splashy hire because it is a lightning rod for criticism: Larry Brown, the oft-traveled 71-year-old former coach of the San Antonio Spurs and seven other NBA teams, as well as UCLA and the University of Kansas.
“When you see a headline linking Larry Brown to yet another coaching job, it is hard not to suspect it’s from someone doing satire,” wrote Lynn Zinser of the New York Times.
Of course, you could say the same thing about writing a column that says, “Larry Brown won’t be at SMU forever,” as nearly everybody did. Mike Lopresti of USA Today opted for a column that pretended to be Brown’s new contract, Mad Lib-style.
I, Larry Brown, agree to coach the (insert team name) for the period of (does it matter?). I will remain in the position so long as I uphold standards and expectations of my administration (insert, or I get bored). This service will begin as soon as I relocate to (insert city), but not later than (don’t worry, I pack light).
“One year of Brown helping to start a semblance of a hoops program at SMU would be nice,” wrote Mike Miller of NBC Sports. “Two would be huge. Anything beyond that? A miracle.”
“Brown has a history of turning around bad programs and SMU is a bad program,” wrote the New York Daily News‘ Dick Weiss.
In other words, SMU knows exactly what it’s getting. Brown, the only coach in basketball to ever win both an NCAA tournament (with Kansas) and an NBA championship (with the Detroit Pistons), hasn’t coached a college team since 1988 (which is when the picture above was taken). That’s the same year SMU last won a single NCAA tournament game.
He’s also 71 years old, which is why former North Texas coach Tim Jankovich–who had been the head coach at Illinois State–has already been anointed “coach-in-waiting” as Brown’s top assistant.
“I always thought of myself as a college coach and this gives me a wonderful chance to get back where I started.” Brown said in a statement.
At the Bleacher Report, Brian Mazique joined the chorus of doubters, though his worst-case scenario is this:
Here’s to a 18-win season in 2012-13, just missing the NCAA tournament, followed by a surprising 20-win season in 2013-14 with a tournament berth.
April 2014 headline reads: Brown steps down at SMU.
Eighteen to twenty wins? A tournament berth in the school’s first crack at the Big East? If Brown does that he just might get a statue outside Highland Park Village!
ESPN’s Eammon Brennan praised Brown’s coaching staff, which also includes former Illinois assistant Jerrance Howard and current Kentucky assistant Rod Strickland:
That’s a good staff. It’s also a staff that could take over on a moment’s notice if Brown, now 71 years old, decides this whole “coaching basketball again” wasn’t such a good idea after all.
Brennan also pointed out that Brown was found to have violated NCAA rules at both of his previous college stops, which ought to be a sensitive subject for SMU.
But no matter. As Brennan also wrote:
I’m writing about SMU basketball right this very minute. You’re reading about SMU basketball. That is a massive improvement over the recent state of the program — and by “recent” I mean “since 1993 or so” — in and of itself.
“Ignore any rational evaluation of whether this might work,” Andy Glockner of Sports Illustrated agreed. “Brown is less an investment in a coach and more a breakout line in the school’s marketing budget.”
That logic doesn’t fly with ESPN’s Jean-Jacques Taylor, who noted that SMU athletic director Orsini reportedly tried and failed to hire at least four other prominent (and current) college basketball coaches before turning to Brown.
“All you can do is shake your head,” Taylor wrote. “It’s hard to figure out how Orsini, who made an excellent football hire in June Jones, screwed up this hire so badly.”
Taylor goes on to say that TCU, which recently lured Trent Johnson away from Louisiana State University for its move to the Big 12, fared much better in its hoops hire.
But at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Mac Engel took the exact opposite view:
…as long as [Brown] is in Dallas the Ponies have the best men’s basketball program in this region. In terms of landing a “big-time” hire to fill its vacated men’s basketball coaching position, SMU popped cross-Metroplex rival TCU.
If you want to make a splash by hiring a coach, give your athletic director a check that reads “Google” and hire a proven name.
Trent Johnson’s arrival to TCU as a replacement for Jim Christian was greeted mostly with a “Huh? Who? Really?” and created zero in terms of buzz, either on campus, locally, regionally or nationally. Johnson may be a decent fit long term, but in terms of immediate impact, his arrival wasn’t much.
Larry Brown’s arrival at SMU as the replacement to Matt Doherty is national news, and was greeted with the type of excitement the Mustangs’ program has not enjoyed in, well, I have no idea. Decades? Larry Brown will make SMU basketball matter.
“Take the good with the bad,” Engel concluded. “This is a major score for SMU.”