Of every radio show going right now, the Max Kellerman and Marcellus Wiley show based in Los Angeles is far and away my favorite. I heard it once driving around LA last spring, and from that point I was hooked. I now download the podcast every day and listen to it at the gym, which is ironic, if only because I couldn’t care less about Los Angeles sports. The show is that good though.
Anyway, Kellerman is far and away my favorite, one of these guys who makes you think about sports in ways that you never have before. Well, one of my favorite theories of his is actually on sportswriters, and how most of them are woefully under qualified to do their jobs. The way Kellerman puts it, “They don’t have the mental aptitude to think critically” about sports biggest issues.
The example that Kellerman always uses is on the voting for Major League Baseball’s MVP’s. To put it as simply as I can, his argument goes a little something like this: Too many voters (aka those dumb sportswriters) spend too much time looking at a team’s win-loss record, and then base their MVP vote on that. So for example, last year Ryan Braun won the NL MVP over Matt Kemp, in large part because Braun’s team (the Brewers) made the playoffs and Kemp’s team (the Dodgers) didn’t. The way Kellerman sees it, sportswriters used the playoff berth to somehow justify giving the MVP to Braun, when in actuality, his team was just better. Had the sportswriters actually thought about the issue beyond the surface level, they would’ve seen that it was actually Kemp who was more valuable to his team.
Anyway, I’m guessing I’ve probably already lost you by now, and if I haven’t, you’re probably wondering why the heck I’m talking about some radio show that you don’t care about. More importantly, you probably want to know what the heck the first three paragraphs of this article have to do with the subject matter of this article today.
Well, the reason I mentioned Kellerman, is because over the last week we’ve seen the exact opposite of Kellerman’s theory on sportswriters come to life. If anything, national writers and media pundits have actually been overanalyzing one of the biggest stories to hit the wires this week. That story, SMU’s pursuit of Larry Brown as its next head basketball coach.
So why are they overanalyzing? Well, when news broke on Sunday that SMU had contacted Brown about their open basketball position, the internet world lit up, like Skip Bayless whenever a picture of Tim Tebow is placed in front of him. Brown to SMU? That couldn’t be for real, right? No, no, no. It had to be a thinly veiled attempt by Brown to get his name back into the media, or an even more thinly veiled attempt by SMU just to get some buzz going in their coaching search. But there couldn’t actually be interest in Brown coaching SMU’s basketball team, could there be? You’d see the Pitino’s and Calipari’s go on a double date before that happened.
Only it was true, and as the week has gone, the courtship has become more real. And as it gets set to hit its crescendo in the coming days, everyone seems to be in agreement on one thing: This is a terrible idea for SMU. Yahoo thinks it’s a bad idea. ESPN things it’s a bad idea. The crazy lady who lives next door to me with 11 cats even thinks it’s a bad idea. Larry Brown and SMU basketball are a marriage made in basketball hell. Everyone seems to be able to agree on that.
Well, everyone that is, except me. I’ve spent the last four days analyzing this move, thinking about it, and talking to people that I like and respect in the college basketball media… and after all that, I still can’t think of one, real downside to SMU hiring Brown.
The truth is, this is SMU and this is basketball, yet for some strange reason everyone is treating this news like SMU’s basketball program is Kentucky, Carolina and UCLA all rolled into one. The way people spoke of a potential Brown hiring, you’d think SMU had passed up John Calipari, Jim Boeheim or Roy Williams instead.
The reality of course, is that SMU isn’t Kentucky, Carolina or UCLA, and while we’re at it, they’re not even Texas Tech, Houston or TCU. At the very least, those programs have had a few relevant basketball moments in the past decade. SMU? Well, they haven’t played in an NCAA Tournament since 1993, and haven’t won an NCAA Tournament game since 1988. Coincidentally, 1988 was also the last year Larry Brown coached in college basketball.
So when you take that into account, I guess I’m confused as to why SMU wouldn’t consider Brown. Sure Brown comes with risks (more on those coming), but how does a program who hasn’t won an NCAA Tournament game in 25 YEARS not take advantage of the opportunity to hire one of the five best basketball minds on the planet?
Only the offer still hasn’t officially been extended, and in the meantime, the national media has attacked SMU like the school had just finished interviewing a slew of bums off the street. To everyone questioning the process, ya’ll do realize we’re talking about SMU, right? And that they are interviewing Larry Freakin’ Brown. RIGHT?
Now, to a very small degree, I get the concerns on Brown. Many have correctly noted that Brown is 72, and has been known in the past for his, umm, commitment issues (which is really a nice way of saying, “The dude changes jobs like you or I would change a pair of socks”). He also hasn’t gone into a recruit’s home as a college coach since the late 1980’s, and the last time he did, he left Kansas with a trail of problems with the NCAA behind him.
So yes, there are risks to hiring Larry Brown, but I’ve got to ask, aren’t there risks in every hire? Wasn’t there a risk when Kentucky brought in Calipari from Memphis? Wasn’t there a risk when Kansas hired Bill Self, a coach who’d never been to the Final Four in all his years as a head coach? Heck, wasn’t there a risk when Duke brought in Coach K, straight off a 9-17 season at West Point? How’d that work out for them? Simply put, there’s no such thing as a perfect hire. And if there was such a thing, well, I’m guessing that guy wouldn’t be trying to get the SMU job.
Still, those risks do exist none the less. Let’s take a moment to break each of them down.
Risk No. 1: Larry Brown Could Take Your Head Coaching Job And Leave After Two Years:
Of course Brown is probably going to leave after two years, if only because he’s Larry Brown and has the commitment issues of a college frat guy. Plus, he’s 72. Even if he loves SMU, he’s more likely to be competing in a Dallas lawn bowling tournament in 10 years than roaming the sidelines for the Mustangs.
At the same time, if Larry Brown leaves in two years, guess what? The program will be irrevocably better for it. In those 24 months, the profile of the program is going to go through the roof. The school is going to sell tickets. They’re going to get nationally televised games that they wouldn’t have gotten otherwise. And whatever players they do get, well, I can’t imagine playing under Larry Brown for two years will make them worse.
Risk No. 2: Larry Brown Won’t Be Able To Recruit:
Hey folks, they’re called assistant coaches. Heard of them? The guys that wear fancy suits and sit next to the head coach during games? Well, in case you’re not familiar, pretty much every basketball team has had them for the last 50 years. Look it up if you don’t believe me.
And while it’s just a hunch on my part, I’ll go out on a limb and guess that Larry Brown will bring a few of those assistant coach guys with him to SMU. Given the fact that he’s been in basketball circles for the last 50 years, I’m guessing he’ll get some good ones too.
As a matter of fact, there’s already talk that Kentucky’s Rod Strickland will join him, a double-dose of assistant coaching goodness, considering that Strickland both played in the NBA, and just coached on the staff of the defending National Champions (and yes, I’m aware that Strickland couldn’t recruit at Kentucky, but still, come on, for SMU that’s still a pretty sweet get). There is also talk that former Illinois assistant Jerrence Howard will be coming along as well.
And while we’re here, I’ve got a little secret for all of you: Most head coaches don’t do all that much recruiting anyway. All the legwork, all the scouting, all the schmoozing of AAU and high school coaches, that’s all done by the assistants. Sure, the head coach flies in for a few of the bigger AAU events or high school tournaments, and if there are in-home visits, he comes in to close. Well guess what? The head coach closes all the work that his assistants put in. For every John Calipari, there’s an Orlando Antigua behind him. Same with Jim Calhoun and Kevin Ollie or Sean Miller and Book Richardson. That’s just how the game works.
Oh, and one more thing about recruiting. I keep hearing that players aren’t going to want to play for Brown, because of the fear he’ll leave in the middle of their careers.
As you might’ve guessed, I don’t totally buy that.
First off, let’s remember that SMU isn’t recruiting against Texas, Baylor and Kansas here, as much as they’re recruiting against Rice, Tulsa and TCU. To which I ask: If you were 18-years-old and your dream was to play in the NBA, would you want to play at TCU or Rice for a coach nobody had ever heard of? Or would you want to play for Larry Brown? If I’m 18, and have NBA aspirations, I’m taking Brown, and I’m not even thinking about it.
Risk No. 3: Larry Brown Left Kansas With NCAA Violations in 1988
That’s true. It’s also true that I used crap in diapers and watch Sesame Street every day in 1988. Point being, a lot of things have changed since then (well, except for the fact that I still watch Sesame Street every day. But you get the point).
The idea that we’re going to hold Larry Brown accountable because of something that happened 25 years ago is simply insane. He’s evolved, the NCAA has evolved and so have athletic departments. Compliance offices have sprouted up, and Athletic Directors are more hands on than ever in how things are run. If SMU AD Steve Orsini does hire Brown, believe me he’s going to have many talks with him about the risk of violating NCAA rules. Besides, this very well could be Larry Brown’s last shot at any relevant coaching job on any level. You think he wants his lasting legacy to be “that guy who got SMU in trouble with the NCAA?” Call me crazy, but I’m guessing no.
Of course despite it all, those concerns aren’t going away, and as time goes on, a lot of people still seem to think that this hire reeks of desperation on SMU’s part. Many are comparing it to Florida International’s ill-fated Isaiah Thomas hiring in 2009, a hiring that ended with Thomas getting fired a month ago after three losing season.
Except really, comparing Thomas and Brown as basketball coaches, is a lot like comparing myself and Stephen A. Smith as sportswriters. Yes, we both have the same job title… and, well, that’s pretty much where the comparisons end.
As best I can tell, the biggest fundamental difference between Brown and Thomas is that Brown has actually shown a proclivity to be able to, you know, coach basketball. We all know his resume, but it’s worth repeating here: He’s the only coach to win both a college and NBA title. He’s won over 1,000 games in his NBA career. He’s coached every type of team, and every type of player. And oh, just for fun, want to know something else? In his seven years as a college head coach, Brown never had less than 20 wins.
Then there’s Isaiah, who coached five years in the NBA before coming to FIU. He had exactly one season where he finished more than two games above .500. For comparison’s sake, Brown had six in his last nine full seasons.
And while we’re on the subject of Isaiah, can I ask one simple question? Was hiring Isaiah Thomas really such a terrible move for Florida International?
On the surface, the short answer might be yes. Thomas took over a 13-20 team, and in three years never even matched that 13 win total the year before he got there. At the end of the day, sports are about wins, and Isaiah didn’t get enough of them. Not even close.
But again, let’s look at this deeper and use some of the critical thinking I mentioned earlier. Do that and you’ll start to realize that Isaiah gave back as much to the program as he took away.
That’s because while Isaiah’s time at Florida International didn’t result in more wins, it certainly created more exposure. Think about it. How many more nationally televised games was Florida International able to schedule because of Isaiah that they weren’t able to before? How many recruits were they able to get into the homes of that they couldn’t have five years ago? How much has the prestige of the program changed, even if the wins and losses haven’t? Heck, FIU hired Rick Pitino Jr. as Thomas’ replacement last month. Would they have even been able to make that move without the groundwork Thomas laid? Honestly, I’m not sure. But there’s no doubt that the program Pitino is inheriting is better than the one Isaiah inherited in 2009.
And really, that’s what people are missing with Brown: The exposure he’ll give to SMU basketball.
Yes, there are risks with hiring him, all of which were mentioned above. And even in bringing one of the best coaches in all of basketball doesn’t guarantee wins. Then again, nobody does.
But the difference between hiring Brown and every candidate is that he does guarantee buzz. It’s something SMU basketball didn’t have a month ago, a year ago or a decade ago, but they have today. People that have never talked or written about them before are indeed talking and writing about them.
Heck, just by bringing in Larry Brown for an interview, he has made SMU basketball more relevant in the last week than it’s been in the last 50 years.
Imagine what’ll happen if he wins a few games.
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