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TCU v. SMU: A case study in rebuilding dead basketball programs in different ways

1300581667DALLAS, Texas – Larry Brown is dying. Or he is going to die soon. Or maybe he is just going to leave SMU tomorrow morning. Something.

The head coach of the SMU men’s basketball team knows that his age (72), and his penchant for bolting, have been used repeatedly against him in his first go around in the recruiting trail.

"Unfortunately other programs reminded the kids of that - I was on my death bed. Or this is a brief stop for me," Brown told me on Wednesday. "I had heard physically that I'm not healthy. I answered to the parents as honestly as I could. I want to be here. At my age, why would I take this job if I didn't want to be here? I told them I want this to be like John Thompson at Georgetown. I can't see myself not coaching. I'm not looking to go anywhere else."

There may not be a more fascinating (desperate?) hire in recent years than SMU’s decision to bring Larry Brown back to college for the first time since he won the national title at Kansas in 1988.

Tonight at 7 p.m. at Daniel-Meyer Coliseum in Fort Worth, SMU will play TCU. The Horned Frogs are in the first season in the Big 12 with first-year coach Trent Johnson. 

I was on record months ago saying I loved SMU's hiring of Brown because it was such a bold move.

TCU took a more conventional route. Both could hit. Either could flop.

Both programs have been bad to merely average in recent years, and in an effort to build something each school took a very different path. SMU’s is the hope that Brown will remain engaged, and present.
TCU’s is that Trent Johnson will be able to have the type of success he had at Stanford.

They are both completely different men.

Brown has enough money, and is at an age where he doesn't care what you think, and isn't afraid of his own opinion. His practices are wide open to anybody, and he'll talk to anybody at any time.

137982794Johnson isn't quite there yet. He is far more regimented, and appears to be a bit more controlling. His practices are closed, and he does a media thing about once a week.

The reality is very few people care enough to notice. Good or bad.

On Wednesday, each program celebrated recruiting classes that are going to make them competitive, blah blah blah. Any fan of either program, however many there actually are, should be hopeful yet highly skeptical.

Brown may be one of the best teachers of the game that ever lived, but the man can't sit still. Ever. Johnson was essentially not asked to come back from his previous job at LSU.

But both men have won. It merely comes down to whether the program can attract players. Real players.

"I do think we can compete on the national level," Brown said.

Whether Brown will remain depends on the success he has, and if SMU even cares. I can't see him staying if the team wins 16 or 18 games in each of his first two years and the home attendance is around 4,000.

And if for some unfortunate reason there is an NCAA thing or two, he's gone.

If this thing hits, maybe he stays for a while. It's clear by now he is going to coach until he is no longer able. An 82-game schedule of the NBA is perhaps too much. And the way his NBA career flamed out with the Knicks and Bobcats perhaps a return to the pro game is no longer viable.

He said in his time away from the game he visited a lot of college practices, mostly at Kansas and Villanova, but none in the NBA.

SMU is going to give him whatever he wants. The Ponies are in the Big East, which even if it's watered down is still a name. 

Meanwhile, TCU is in the Big 12 and it plans to expand and re-do its home arena.

The reality is neither job was very appealing because both programs have been losers forever.

Both programs realized they had to do something different in order to be relevant.


Facebook Mac Engel 


Bus Stop

Larry Brown is a nuclear bomb. I agree with just about everything you are saying. I think it works. I think he has success. He has taken crappier jobs and shined them into something. He is a great teacher and kids coming to SMU will probably listen. He has won too much on too many different levels not to listen.

Here is to hoping SMU blows the roof off the place and gets the best Larry Brown has to offer.

Age is not a factor for winners like "Leave Town" Larry Brown.

Brad Ford

Larry Brown is going to build SMU into a competitive Big East program. After that, it will be up to SMU, its fans, and its alums to keep things going.

Exciting times for Mustang fans.

Kendall G.

I love SMU, graduated from there, and live in the area. Larry already has done a ton for the fans of the school. I think he will get it done. I hope he sticks around to enjoy all the good things the area has to offer. I think it would be a great place for Coach to retire....but not until he wins a National Champchip(s)

Jake P. from San Angelo, Texas

I hope you are not insinuating TCU will be able to stand up to SMU once Larry Brown gets his guys and systems in place. (provided he stays for an entire game, let alone an entire season or two)

Erin V.

Even if Larry Brown only stays 2 seasons it will raise the profile of our program. He is a legend. We need him. I'm banking on him making a splash at SMU. I hope he likes it and retires with us but I'm not holding my breathe.


Looks like TCU is already a step or 2 ahead based on the recruiting class they just signed.

Larry Brown

SMU has the 30th best early signing recruiting class in the Nation, and LB and crew are not done!

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