Catching Up With:
Inside Carolina Magazine
STORY: Steve Hunt
PHOTOS: SMU Athletics/Getty/UNCAC
he coaching resume of Larry Brown is unmatched in basketball circles. After his playing career at Carolina ('63), and then a short stint as a UNC assistant coach, Brown played in the ABA until 1972. He became a head coach in the ABA within months of ending his playing career. After four ABA seasons and three NBA seasons, Brown’s next stop was UCLA, where he spent two years and led the Bruins to the NCAA championship game in 1980. Following a two-year stint with the New Jersey Nets, he then coached the next five seasons at Kansas, leading the Jayhawks to a pair of Final Fours, including an improbable run to the 1988 NCAA Championship. He has coached seven different NBA teams since—San Antonio, Los Angeles (Clippers), Indiana, Philadelphia, Detroit (leading the Pistons to the 2004 NBA title), New York and Charlotte. He was away from the game for a couple of seasons until last summer when SMU hired him. Bringing Brown on helped stimulate interest in Mustang basketball immediately and sell tickets, something that had been lacking in the Dallas area. At the time of the interview, the team was off to its best start in five seasons and is now 10-4.
Before you came to SMU, your last college job was at Kansas back in the late 1980s. What's it like for you being back in the college game?
I mean, I’m just happy to be coaching, being with my staff, being around the game. Games to me are tough but being at practice, working with players and being connected with the university is terrific. It’s an adjustment coming into an arena with no people and going on the road and no people. But we’ve got to try to change that. It’s going to take time. It’s part of enjoying your job. We want to create an atmosphere here where people want to come and support our team, want us to be a big part of this campus.
Fellow former Tar Heel George Lynch is your assistant strength and conditioning coach…
Our AD [Rick Hart] is a Carolina guy, assistant AD [Matt Roberts] is a Carolina guy. I told [Director of Player Development] Eric Snow to be a Carolina guy. That was a big part of my life, being around Coach McGuire and Coach Smith. I learned the right way about family and loyalty from Coach McGuire. We want to have an atmosphere just like that. That’s really important. But we’re SMU. Our blue’s a little different. Even though it was a tough blue for me to look at at first, I’m getting to enjoy it. Kansas blue’s a lot like this one. Same colors at KU, right?
Are you happy with the early results at SMU or instead more focused on the bigger picture, namely what you and your staff have to do to raise the profile of the program?
I don’t even think about that. We’ve got such a big hill to climb. We’ve got seven and a half healthy players, we’ve just got to go game-by-game and practice to practice. We’ve just got to put our values in and get guys to understand what they need to do to get better every day. We’re feeling pretty full of ourselves right now. Wait until some of these guys see this film.
When the UNC job came open in the past, did you ever get any serious consideration for that job?
Well, the first time it came open [in 1997], I was having training camp with Philly. Coach [Smith] orchestrated that Bill [Guthridge] had to take the job and left him with a great team. I was with Scott Williams. I was hoping he [Coach Smith] wasn’t ill but he explained to me why that was the greatest choice. The second time it came open [in 2000], he [Smith] called me and said he was going to recommend Roy [Williams] because Roy had been in college 20 years but if he didn’t get it, he wanted me to have it. A lot of things went down. I don’t think I was [then AD Dick] Baddour’s guy so I was crushed. Coach [Smith] said ‘I’ll get you the job’ and I said ‘It’s OK, Coach. The AD doesn’t want me.’ Then, the next time it came open, Roy was saying he wasn’t going to leave and he decided to leave. So naturally, I love that school. I love Coach Smith and I love Coach McGuire and I want to be part of it. But they made a great choice [in hiring Roy Williams in 2003]. Kansas hit a home run [by hiring Bill Self after Williams left] so everything worked out great.
Can you discuss the biggest lessons you took from playing for both Frank McGuire and Coach Dean Smith?
We don’t have enough time for that. They’re two of the greatest coaches of all time. It’s about playing the right way and respecting your teammates and respecting the game, building a family. Everything that I know, that I’ve been taught, so much of it stems from them and I’ll never change. I’m just hopeful that I can carry on and give the message that I was taught but there’s not a thing I don’t do every day that they haven’t been a part of.
“It’s about playing the right way and respecting your teammates and respecting the game, building a family."
When Kansas played UNC in the 2008 Final Four in San Antonio – and again last year in the Elite Eight – you appeared to be rooting for the Jayhawks rather than the Tar Heels…
UCLA was there [in ‘08]. I coached there. I was close to [their coach] Ben Howland. Memphis was there—John Calipari is like my son. KU was there—Bill Self’s family, he coached with me. And Roy [Williams] and I have been family forever. Roy just gave me the seats. Last year, I left when Kansas played Kentucky [in the championship game]. I didn’t see the final game. They were my guys. That year, I just happened to stay there. People were saying in Kansas City I was cheering everybody but I was with Kansas for a month. I just happened to be sitting in their stands. All I know is when [any of those schools] go to the Final Four or they’re in the Sweet Sixteen or Final Eight, everybody wins. How many coaches have an involvement like I do? That was one of the greatest things to ever happen in my life.