Brown wants to go back to school
The last time Larry Brown coached a college basketball game, his Kansas Jayhawks won the 1988 NCAA championship.
He clipped the nets with Danny (Manning) and the Miracles, then returned to the NBA, where he coached seven teams, captured the 2004 NBA title with the Detroit Pistons and coached the ’04 United States Olympic Team.
Now Brown, 70, is interested in a return to the college ranks.
“I was a college coach and did OK,” Brown told Yahoo! Sports on Saturday. “I was a pro coach and did reasonably well.
“Kids want to be in the NBA, and if you can coach and teach and get them ready for the NBA and you’re at a good school, I think you’d have an unbelievable head start on a lot of people. I’ve always tried to get players better, whether as a college coach or a pro coach. Two minutes on the floor on the first day of practice, players know whether you can coach or not.”
The idea of Brown in the NCAA may come out of the blue. It isn’t without merit, though.
Brown is correct that the NBA is the chief motivation for many recruits. If he was able to put together a young staff that’s connected within grassroots basketball, then why wouldn’t a top player consider playing for him? And it’s not like he’s been out of basketball the past few decades – who else has coached Allen Iverson, maximized Chauncey Billups and Ben Wallace and still counts Michael Jordan as a close friend? He knows almost everyone.
Besides, what candidate out there is a better actual coach than this guy?
Brown parted way with the Charlotte Bobcats in December 2010 after a two-and-a-half season stint. Since then, he has spent time with a number of friends or former protégés in the college game – including Kansas’ Bill Self, Kentucky’s John Calipari and Villanova’s Jay Wright.
Brown said they keep encouraging him to consider a return to the college ranks. He has been watching the game relentlessly this season – the NCAA tourney was on in background Saturday – and notes that pro influences are everywhere, especially ball screens. He jokes he’s on a six-game win streak at the college level (all during that magical 1988 NCAA tournament) – “not bad, huh?”
He was offered the Stanford job in 2008, but decided to remain in the NBA in part because he didn’t want to move his family (he has a wife, a 16-year-old son and a 13-year-old daughter) to California at the time. Now they’d come along to wherever he winds up.
His name was linked to the open position at Arkansas by the Web site SportsbyBrooks.com, but Brown says he hasn’t spoken to anyone in Fayetteville or any other campus. He’s willing to, though.
No, he isn’t a traditional coaching candidate, yet he brushes off concerns about his age.
“When I look in the mirror, I guess I’m older but inside I don’t feel any different,” he said.
He says he’d set out the proper plan for whatever job he might get. He plans on hiring a top-line staff that can aid in the off-court challenges that he hasn’t dealt with since KU – or his previous stint at UCLA. (In seven seasons in college hoops, he went 177-61 and reached three Final Fours, including one title.)
He has a significant coaching tree and said he’s always prided himself in having assistants who were prepared to handle their own head-coaching job, whether in college or the NBA. He’d do the same here for his eventual retirement – which probably isn’t any time soon.
“I’d bring in a staff where someone is really good and capable of taking over,” he said. “Look at the people who have worked for me or played for me that are coaching now.”
Until then, a school gets a legendary Hall-of-Fame coach. Is it the traditional route for success? No. But considering how many of the schools seeking a coach have watched the traditional route fail over and over and over, maybe it shouldn’t matter.
The college game is filled with phonies who can’t coach their way out of a paper bag. That’s one thing they’ll never say about “L.B.”
“I don’t want this to sound wrong, but I think I can teach as well as anyone,” Brown said. “I can win games. I can recruit because I know what it takes to get to the next level and I can be honest with these kids. I can’t tell you how many college players I spoke with during my NBA career that I urged to return because they aren’t ready.
“I want to go into a recruit’s home and say, ‘Look, I know you want to be in the NBA and I’ll get you ready. But nothing bad ever came from getting a degree. Let’s have something to fall back on.’ “
So there Brown was Saturday night, watching college basketball, rooting on his friends and working on his possible recruiting pitch. First to an athletic director. Then to a high school star.
All these years later, he’s looking for a return to the game next season. Maybe it’s as a NBA assistant. Maybe it’s a front-office job.
Or maybe, he figures, it’s back on campus, the Hall of Famer willing to put that NCAA tournament winning streak on the line for a brand new challenge.