Larry Brown hasn't even coached one game at SMU and he's already won everybody on the Hilltop over.
The 71-year-old Hall of Famer was introduced as the Mustangs new head basketball coach Monday in front of Moody Coliseum on a perfect spring day. It was about 70 degrees out, not a cloud in the sky, and Brown looked hip in his sunglasses.
Brown was comfortable, as he's been here before. He even cracked a couple jokes. The mood was light.
A few big names were present, like Kansas head coach and past Brown assistant Bill Self. Former Dallas Maverick great Rolando Blackman was also there. But the most surprising man to see suited up was Matt Doherty, the guy SMU fired almost six weeks ago.
Doherty was all smiles, greeting anyone and everyone that crossed his path. He sat in the front row next to Self during the Brown introduction. A true act of class and support for his North Caroline fraternity brother, so to speak.
Before introducing Brown, athletic director Steve Orsini said a few words regarding the search process that grabbed the attention of national media last week. He compared this 37-day ordeal to the 71-day hunt that landed SMU June Jones some years back. Orsini went as far as proclaiming the Brown hire as "the June Jones of men's college basketball."
Rumors swirled for five weeks about possible candidates for this job. And because of all the talk, Orsini felt the need to explain what really happened.
"We were never rejected by anyone," he said. "We made one offer and we got one acceptance."
So that was that.
Then as Brown took the podium, he received a standing ovation. Though out of the 13 head coaching jobs he's had only three have been in college (Davidson, though he never coached a game there, UCLA, Kansas and SMU will be his fourth), Brown—and others such as Self—believe that he is a college coach more so than a NBA coach because he has teaching tendencies, not managing ones. Brown even said that when he was at UNC under Dean Smith, the coach asked him what he wanted to do, where he wanted to coach and his sights were set on the college game.
"I told him I wouldn't mind going to a school like Stanford or Princeton or Northwestern or Vanderbilt," Brown said. "A great school academically that was in a great conference that had a chance to compete for a national championship with high tech kids. I never realized at 71 this opportunity would present itself because I think everything I thought about then is right in place here.
"I don't care if I was SMU's second, third or fourth choice," Brown continued. "I couldn't be at a better spot at a time in my life than right here."
Needless to say, Brown received quite the applause after that.
He also discussed his newfound friendship with Jones. Brown said the football coach called or texted him every single day of the process to tell him not to give up on the job.
"I've become a great penpal with June Jones," Brown said. "He told me this thing is gonna turn around, you're gonna be here, things are going to work out the right way.
"I'm a big football fan, a big June Jones fan, and I hope I can follow in his footsteps and continue to make this program grow and have people proud of us all over the country. I don't take this opportunity lightly. I know how important this hire was for the university."
Quite the duo, those two. Soon to be best friends and golf buddies? Don't put it past them.
Ever since Brown's name surfaced a few weeks ago, so did his past of wanderlust. He's coached 30 percent of NBA teams and his longest stint with an organization was six years with the Philadelphia 76ers. So how long will he coach at SMU?
"How old is Howard Schnellenberger, 85? And he's still going strong," Brown said. "When I look in the mirror, I get kinda scared, but inside I feel like I could do this forever. I've never worked a day in my life. It's been a labor of love for me."
Brown, who signed a five-year deal for an undisclosed amount (although sources close to the program say it's a $1.75 million per year salary), wants to be at SMU for the long haul, he says.
SMU is headed to the Big East in 2013, so Brown has a little over a year to impart his four decades of knowledge on these players. He also has to assemble a staff to help him develop the talent and recruit the area.
The to-do list just keeps getting longer.
But after walking around the campus and being reminded about all things Dallas, Brown is energized by what he has in his backyard to sell to prospective recruits.
"I live in Villanova and the competition there is amazing," he said. "But walking around here, if we can get a kid to visit, I can't imagine him going anywhere else."
Brown knows the importance of recruiting Texas and forming relationships with local coaches and believes that having the Crum and Moody facilities, plus the Mavs here with Mark Cuban, Rick Carlisle, Jason Kidd and Dirk Nowitzki, there's no reason they can't get in and get their hands dirty like they Baylors and Texas' of the state.
"We're going into the Big East and we got everything going for us," Brown said.
Now about that coaching staff. Last week reports popped up that Illinois State head coach Tim Jankovich was going to come in as Brown's coach-in-waiting. But now conflicting stories are out. Brown even mentioned during his press conference that Jankovich was out recruiting for the Redbirds over the weekend. There was no word on whether former Illinois assistant Jerrance Howard or former Kentucky assistant Rod Strickand were imminent hires, either.
"I don't know if he's in-waiting right now," Brown said of Jankovich. "But we'll have a great staff. I've had about 1,000 calls from people who want a job here, so I'm confident we'll surround ourselves with people that can teach and represent this school well."
Brown joked that he asked Self to join him in Dallas, but that the Jayhawks coach "has a pretty good job" already.
Brown did say he wants to assemble a staff quickly. He wanted to get it wrapped up yesterday, in fact.
He did not comment on whether he was planning to retain any of Doherty's staff, like Jerry Hobbie, for instance.
Everyone can speculate on how long Brown will stay at SMU and everyone can take jabs at the man's age, but when all is said and done, Brown is one of the greatest basketball minds around and he loves teaching those who are willing to learn.
Asked what his reaction was when Brown told him he wanted to coach again, Self laughed and said, "Well, he's got to. He's gonna drive me nuts hanging out with me all the time."
But in all seriousness, Self believes there's no one better than Brown.
"He had to get a job because this is what the guy does," Self said. "His thought process is 24/7 basketball. He needed to get a job and have an opportunity that just fits him perfectly."
And at this moment in time, SMU fits the bill.
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