Larry Brown: Gamble worth taking at SMU?

April, 17, 2012
4/17/12
9:27
PM ET
It is not at all difficult to figure out why the Southern Methodist University men's basketball program wants to hire Larry Brown, and they most likely will, as reported Tuesday afternoon by ESPN.com's Jason King.

The Mustangs -- a program with one winning season since 2003-04, just 10 all-time NCAA tournament appearances (exactly one since Brown last coached in a college game in 1988), and no long-term tradition or cachet to speak of -- are in the process of moving from Conference USA to the Big East. This is a program that needs to get good quickly. It is a program that needs a splash hire, a boost to national perception, a conversation-starter. It is a program that needs to take a risk.

Larry Brown, it is safe to say, represents all of those things.

[+] EnlargeLarry Brown
Garrett W. Ellwood/NBAE/Getty ImagesLarry Brown can certainly coach -- but rarely sticks around anywhere for very long.
Brown is something like a legend in the game, the only coach ever to win both a national title and an NBA championship. His legacy in the game, his sheer reach, extends well beyond his own former programs: Both Kansas coach Bill Self and Kentucky coach John Calipari -- the two men in charge of your 2012 national runner-up and champion, respectively -- consider Brown a mentor. Good luck finding someone to tell you this man can't coach the game. Because he really, really can.

But along with that acumen and experience comes the rest of the overstuffed Brown baggage cart. He is just as legendary for his short attention span; his longest coaching tenure -- q.v. this timeline for the details -- was six years (with the 76ers), and more frequently he has left his job after two or three seasons, and often even sooner than that. He has coached 30 percent of the NBA's teams and is on the verge of taking his 13th head coaching job.

Even worse, especially for an athletics program with SMU's history, is Brown's run-ins with NCAA regulatory brass: At UCLA, a Final Four appearance was vacated, and when he left Kansas in 1988 the program was under NCAA probation.

That said, SMU appears to be working on some built-in Brown backup plans. The first is a potential coach-in-waiting deal with Illinois State coach Tim Jankovich, who was still deciding on the opportunity as of early Tuesday evening.

But according to reports, Brown's staff would also include former Illinois assistant/recruiting ace 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.

So there are huge upsides, sure. In fact, you're looking at one right now. 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.

But there are massive risks here, too. The Mustangs, it seems, have decided to take the entire package, the putative risks with the potential rewards. It could work out. It could blow up. That's the Larry Brown package, and all that comes with it.

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