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Wednesday, April 23, 2008
Brady ready to rebuild at Arkansas State

By Andy Glockner
ESPN.com

Figuring out how former LSU coach John Brady landed at Arkansas State isn't too complicated.

For the school, the marriage is a no-brainer. The head coaching job became open early after Dickey Nutt's midseason resignation, and Brady was available when most other candidates still were finishing their seasons. After a dalliance with former Arkansas head man Nolan Richardson, Arkansas State locked in on Brady and quickly closed the deal, bringing instant credibility to its program by hiring a Final Four coach.

John Brady
John Brady was fired from LSU 21 months after he led the Tigers to the Final Four.

Meanwhile, Brady had decided that after he was fired in February after 10-plus seasons in charge of the Tigers, he didn't want to take any time off. He's also a child of the South, born and raised in Mississippi, with deep professional roots there and in Louisiana and Alabama. He was familiar with both the state of Arkansas, having dueled with the Razorbacks annually, and Arkansas State, which he visited for the first time as an assistant at New Orleans almost two decades ago.

Upon reinspection, Brady still liked the school's facilities, found significant fan support there and believes the surrounding areas are rife with suitable talent. The fit was right, even with the Indians (soon to be Red Wolves) coming off a 10-20 season, 5-13 in the Sun Belt.

"It seems like every program I have been involved with has been a rebuilding project, and this is no different," Brady said. "Coaching is coaching, regardless whether it's at high school or at the highest level at LSU or this level where Arkansas State is, and it's an opportunity to do what I've always wanted to do. I feel comfortable with the situation, with the people, so I decided to do this and I've been excited about it."

So have the locals, who have helped Brady and his wife, Misty, settle into Jonesboro, Ark., tucked in the northeastern corner of the state, an hour (and, in some ways, light years) away from the relative big lights of Memphis. Brady's reception in town has been warm, and he was similarly received in Little Rock while attending last month's NCAA tournament subregional games. The couple already has sold their house in Baton Rouge, La., and bought one in town.

While this engagement has the initial feel of more of a long-term commitment than a one-season fling, Brady and his staff will need to be creative to succeed. This isn't LSU, where Brady proved he could bring in top-tier talent. This is Arkansas State, which is 0-1 in the NCAA tournament in its 37-season Division I history.

"It's going to be challenging, but I think there's an opportunity here to do something significant and special," Brady said. "I know when Nelson Catalina was here and Dickey Nutt early in his coaching career here, they drew great crowds and they upset some people and made this an attractive job. Hopefully, we can tap back into that and get this thing going again and win some games in the Sun Belt."

The fact that Brady needs to take on this challenge at all is an entirely separate story.

Just two seasons ago, Brady led the Tigers to the Final Four and was rewarded with a contract extension. That run culminated a seven-year span that included three SEC West division crowns, two SEC championships and two Sweet 16s. All of it came after Brady's first two seasons were spent extracting the program from the probationary mess left by the end of Dale Brown's tenure.

"I will put that up against any 10-year stretch of any coach that has ever coached in the Southeastern Conference, and let it stand on its own," Brady said.

When a coach gets fired, especially in the circumstances that he did, coaches all across the country step back and say, 'Wow, slowly but surely this is turning more and more like professional sports daily.'

--Andy Kennedy, Ole Miss coach

That's about as boastful or angry Brady will get publicly about his dismissal in Baton Rouge, even though his firing just a year and a half after making the national semifinals is unprecedented in the big-money era. Going back 15 seasons, only two other Final Four coaches have subsequently been fired (principally) for on-court performance, and both Richardson (terminated seven years after the second of back-to-back Final Fours in 1994 and '95) and Mike Davis (pushed out four seasons after making the national championship game in 2002) had much longer leashes than Brady was given at LSU.

"When a coach gets fired, especially in the circumstances that he did, coaches all across the country step back and say, 'Wow, slowly but surely this is turning more and more like professional sports daily,' " said Andy Kennedy, the coach at LSU's SEC West rival Ole Miss who has known Brady since Kennedy was a middle schooler in Mississippi.

While the timing of the dismissal was surprising, the decision itself isn't completely at odds with the overall facts. Brady's tenure at LSU was pocked with wild momentum swings. Even if you eliminate the 6-26 SEC mark from his first two hamstrung seasons, Brady still was only one game over .500 in league play over in his last eight-plus years. He also had only three winning league seasons and was just 6-17 in the SEC over his final season and a half.

At the press conference to announce Brady's firing, outgoing LSU athletic director Skip Bertman said that the firing was simply because the Tigers "didn't win enough basketball games since the Final Four."

Did Brady deserve more time? He had already proven twice that he could rebuild at LSU and says he had a top-15 recruiting class lined up for next season. With significant injury issues compromising the Tigers the past two seasons, it's certainly arguable that his track record warranted more time to try it a third time if on-court performance was indeed the only barometer.

Through LSU's sports information office, Bertman declined further comment for this story.

John Brady
John Brady was on top of the college hoops world when he reached the 2006 Final Four. But he failed to keep LSU consistently at the top.

Publicly at least, Brady seems at peace with the decision. He went out graciously, meeting with the media at the news conference of his firing, and he redirects most queries about his time at LSU by expressing his gratitude for the opportunity to coach there.

"Whether I agree or you agree or somebody supports or thinks LSU did the right thing or didn't do the right thing, at the end of the day, it really doesn't matter," Brady said. "What matters is what I did that is well-documented in the record books and how I left LSU in an appropriate way, in a first-class way, in my mind. Now I'm going to take that same kind of approach at Arkansas State. I'm appreciative of the opportunity, and I hope I can make this program what they want it."

Brady knows things will be different in Jonesboro. Three months ago, he was one of only two coaches in the SEC to have made a Final Four. Now, he's the only one in the Sun Belt, where teams like Louisiana-Lafayette and New Orleans have gone from former nonconference fodder to current league foes. His budgets and chances of making the NCAA tournament are also smaller, but that's OK. A decade on the game's largest stage made him realize that, in this case, size really didn't matter.

There is one thing from Brady's past, though, that he wouldn't mind preserving -- the chance to get booed annually by 17,000 Arkansas fans. Brady noted that his LSU program annually played teams from around Arkansas, and he wouldn't mind the same courtesy being extended to his new program, even if it gets a bit rough on his ear drums.

"I would certainly play them in Fayetteville and play them in Little Rock and then see if they'd come to Jonesboro and play," Brady said. "I think it would be great for basketball in the state and would create a lot of interest."

Andy Glockner is a regular contributor to ESPN.com's college basketball coverage and is the host of the ESPNU College Basketball Insider podcast. He can be reached at bubblewatch@gmail.com.