Larry Brown gets warm welcome at SMU

UNIVERSITY PARK, Texas — Larry Brown admits it might
take him a while to get up to speed in college coaching.

“I’m just learning how to text,” Brown, 71, said Monday during his
introductory news conference at SMU. “I think I’m going to have to get
proficient at that.”

Brown was formally introduced as SMU’s men’s basketball coach in a
sun-splashed, star-studded news conference on the plaza in front of Moody
Coliseum.

A plane trailing a banner that read “WELCOME TO TOWN LARRY BROWN! —
SMU” flew overhead as Brown was introduced to an audience that included
Kansas coach Bill Self and former Dallas Mavericks great Rolando Blackman.

Even Matt Doherty, who was fired to create the opening for Brown, was at the news
conference-slash-celebration, which ended with confetti cannons firing off.

For Brown, who has been the head coach at 13 other college and professional
stops, SMU represents a chance to achieve one of his earliest career goals. He
said as a young assistant to Dean Smith, he was asked what kind of program he
would like to be a head coach of one day. Brown said he would prefer coaching
at a smaller, private school with high academics.

“A school like Stanford or Princeton or Northwestern or Vanderbilt, in a
great conference with a chance to compete,” Brown said. “I never
realized at 71 that this opportunity would present itself. I think everything I
thought about then is right here.”

It’s been since 1988 that Brown coached a college team, which is just one of
many questions about Brown’s hire. That it took 37 days to hire him, after
Brown expressed interest early in the search process, says SMU had some
questions of its own, too.

SMU athletic director Steve Orsini pointed out that it took 71 days for him to
hire football coach June Jones, who has led that formally moribund program to
three consecutive bowl games.

“It took us 37 days to get what I feel is the June Jones for men’s
basketball in coach Brown,” said Orsini, who refuted media reports about
SMU’s overtures to other coaches by emphatically stating that SMU made only one
offer during the search.

Brown took the long hiring process in stride.

“I hope he [Orsini] got a message from God late that he decided maybe I
was the right one,” Brown said. “I don’t care if I was the second,
third or fourth choice, I couldn’t be at a better spot at a time in my life
than right here.”

Brown was vague about the makeup of his coaching staff. It’s been widely
reported that Illinois State coach Tim Jankovich would be hired as the
coach-in-waiting, but nothing was announced Monday.

“We’ll have a great staff,” Brown said. “I’ve had about a thousand calls
from people that want a job here.”

One of the strengths Brown brings to SMU is his many basketball connections, at
the NBA and college level. Brown, already inducted into the Basketball Hall of
Fame, is the only man to coach teams to an NBA and an NCAA championship.

Self, who helped convince Orsini to hire Brown, was a graduate assistant under
Brown for one season at Kansas. Self, who calls Brown a mentor, said Brown
still has a keen basketball mind after traveling with the Jayhawks, including
practices and film sessions, through the recent NCAA tournament.

“To me, the only thing that would potentially be a hang
up at all is here’s an NBA guy. Why would he go back to college?” Self
said. “In all honesty, he’s a college coach that coached in the NBA. He’s
not an NBA coach that coached in college.”

SMU has not been to an NCAA tournament since 1993 and in that span has seen a
number of top players leave the Dallas area to play elsewhere.

“We have to identify ourselves in Texas,” Brown said. “I see
other people coming here and having some success. I think there’s enough
players that are close enough where I’d love to be a presence for our
university in this area.”

Brown’s presence has already helped elevate the program, judging by the number
of reporters and cameras in attendance.

Part of the reason for the pomp and circumstance of the news conference is a
multi-million dollar renovation of Moody Coliseum that President R. Gerald
Turner said would be completed in time for SMU’s first Big East Conference game
in January of 2014.

“The bright lights will come this way,” said Blackman, who played on
the 1980 Olympic team that Brown served on as an assistant coach. “It will
be sustained with winning. Any time you have a Hall of Fame coach and a person
that’s done it at both levels, and now you bring it to a great academic
institution like this … you’re talking about having all kinds of TV stations
here and something that everybody will follow.”

Brown joked about trying to relate to his new players, who were born 50 years
after him. He did a quick impression of one of his former players, Allen
Iverson — “Practice? I’m talking about practice!” — that he knew they
would recognize.

But in talking to the current players about coaching legends he’s been influenced
by, Brown revealed why he wanted to continue working long after most coaches
have retired.

“I want to coach. I’ve always loved it,” Brown said while mentioning
names like Dean Smith, Frank McGuire and Henry Iba. “The bottom line is I
want, because I’ve been touched by them, to continue to teach the things they
value.”

Follow Keith Whitmire on Twitter: @Keith_Whitmire