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Year 1 of Larry Brown at SMU: A Success

0420_Larry_Brown_SMU_630x420DALLAS, TexasLarry Brown says he plans to return to SMU next season. That itself makes his first year at SMU a smashing success. 

“Well, we’re 15-15 so … I don’t know,” somehow implying the SMUers will fire him. 

One of the great experiments and bigger risks in recent memory in college basketball has after one season gone about as well could be expected. 

“We’ve been in every game but two,” he said Thursday after a film session. “But I want them to get their expectations up. … Sometimes they are looking for bad things to happen because we’re SMU.”

Of the hundreds of jobs Brown has taken over his career this may be the most difficult for precisely that reason – no one expects a thing from this private school in Dallas. He is trying like hell to change that, but the process is difficult. This is not Kentucky. This is a private school, that can't decide which conference it's in, in big city located in football-mad state.

As much interest as Brown’s presence has generated for this obscure program – he has been featured in just about every major sports media publication and outlet since he arrived – this is a sales job.

“It’s been a tremendous challenge,” he said. “This isn’t like a hill, it’s more like a …”

Larry-brown-kentuckyHis voice trails off, implying the invisible mountain before him looks like Everest.

SMU’s average attendance is 3,452, which is good for SMU. The Ponies averaged just over 2,000 last season. Regardless, 3,452 is but nothing like was used to when he coached Kansas, UCLA, or even the Charlotte Bobcats.

While construction crews rip apart Moody Coliseum as part of a $47 million renovation project that should be completed around Jan. 1, 2014, Brown stands inside the practice facility now fully aware of what he got into. The Coliseum is about a one-year project, but this team is more likely a three-year job.

“For us to be successful we’re going to have to do it like Gonzaga or Butler,” he said. “People are going to want to come here and play us. We just have to be relevant.”

Larry Brown may be an NBA coach with an NBA title, but he knows he will not be landing one-and-doners at SMU. It's still SMU, and Larry Brown isn't God.

Dog-brown-articleInlineHe has made a difference in his first season. As of March 8, the team is 15-15 and has a chance at this program's second winning season in the last 10 years. Brown has made SMU basketball relevant, or at least interesting. Even if SMU finishes .500 or better, don’t expect the Ponies to play in either the CBI or CIT tournaments. People around the program said that he doesn’t want to participate in a for-pay tourney.

With his tan still always present, Brown does look relaxed and like he is enjoying himself. The kids he has listen to him, and want to be coached.

“Guys I’ve been around want to be coached; they can tell in about five minutes if you can help them,” Brown said.

This season he has found himself coaching in a way he doesn’t prefer – he’s coaching to be close, to hang around, to give his team a chance. He has had to play the shot clock game.

The problem is he needs players.

“We don’t have a point guard,” he said. 

It should be noted Brown seemingly says this about every team he has ever coached.

He ran off a great number of the players he inherited when he took the job, and it takes time to find guys. He has a good class of newcomers, and a few transfers, scheduled to arrive soon. That should help.

The trick is convincing, and coaching, a group of players who he knows likely aren’t good enough not to accept losing when their talent level says they are doing everything they can. He internally fights that. He doesn’t want to give his players an excuse, but he knows they are limited.

Taking everything into conisderation, this has gone about as well as could have been expected.

The question remains - how long will he want to do this? About 30 miles south of Tulsa after SMU won on March 6, the team bus broke down. Another bus had to be called in, and Brown didn’t arrive back home until around 7 a.m.

He is 72, and his history says he'll get antsy sooner rather than later. He doesn't need the money.

Who knows? Maybe he'll stick around in what appears to be a fun retirement job. He looks like he is having fun. SMU gives him everything he wants. He has told people he wants to coach until he is 80.

(He just did not say where).

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young basketball pony

Like most of the cities Larry Brown has coached; I hope he stays. He has been a tremendous boost for SMU basketball which is likely to be relevant or at least interesting. We need him to stay a total of 5 years. We need a new facility and a birth in the NCAA tourney. He can do it. He is getting good kids who want to play for him. Let's keep our fingers crossed that he stays for 5 years. We need him.

US Weekly


Doug Olson

He is one of the all time best. He's never demanded that he have two or three hall of famers to win. He just builds winning teams (and then leaves).

John Davis

Thanks for writing something positive about SMU for a change, wow! You set your TCU fandom aside.

Uncle Fester

If he builds a winning program (and then leaves), SMU fans will be very happy with him.

The power of the pony

He is the real deal. It's amazing he has people talking about SMU basketball. He can do it. If he doesn't leave town before 5 years he will have done the unthinkable; made SMU into a legit basketball team and put fans in the stands. Let's hope he stays.

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