At an age where most people are simply enjoying their twilight years, Larry Brown is happily active and showing no signs of slowing down. And neither are his Southern Methodist Mustangs.
Brown is 74 years old, looks absolutely fantastic, and is about to bring SMU to its first NCAA tournament berth since 1993. It’s a great accomplishment for the man, and maybe an even bigger one for the school.
For those who don’t know, Southern Methodist’s football program was rocked by a scandal in the mid 1980s that uncovered multiple under the table payments to student athletes over the course of nearly a decade. As a result, the football team’s 1987 season was canceled, all home games for the following season were as well (though the school ultimately sat that year out in its entirety), scholarships were lost and hiring restrictions were put in place. Granted, this was the football team as opposed to the basketball squad, but the school carried the stain of the scandal for years just the same.
Until now. In his third year in Dallas, Brown and his conservative isolation approach have turned the Mustangs into a veritable force built on teamwork. After going 15-17 in his first season and just barely missing the big dance last year en route to being the NIT runner-up against the Minnesota Golden Gophers, SMU went 24-6 this season and won the American Athletic Conference (AAC) regular season championship. Currently, they sit at No. 20 in the AP rankings, all thanks to the man who brought them back from the dead: “Downtown” Larry Brown.
It’s been a long road for Brown, who went from the mean streets of Brooklyn, New York to playing for his eventual mentor, Hall of Famer Dean Smith, at the University of North Carolina. After serving as an assistant under Smith for two seasons, he tried his luck at playing in the ABA before becoming a coach full-time, starting with the ABA’s Carolina Cougars and Denver Nuggets (later of the NBA). He quickly gained a reputation as a great basketball mind with a knack for getting the best out of all teams he coached.
The man’s record speaks for itself. In his first college head coaching gig, at UCLA in 1979, he led a freshman-heavy Bruins team to the national championship game. Though his team lost and the appearance was later vacated due to ineligible players, the job speaks for itself.
The list of his accomplishments goes on. Over the course of three decades, he turned teams like the New Jersey Nets, Los Angeles Clippers, San Antonio Spurs, Indiana Pacers, Philadelphia 76ers and Charlotte Bobcats into (at least in the short-term) NBA contenders. From 1983-1988, he took a break from the NBA to coach the Kansas Jayhawks, making a Final Four in 1986 and winning a title in 1988 before heading back to the NBA to coach the Spurs. In 2005, he won his one and only NBA championship ring with the Detroit Pistons.
All-in-all, combining his records on the professional and collegiate levels, the man owns a mark of 1,565-1,104. No matter how “close” those numbers may be, the fact that a man with that record is still active and coaching is impressive beyond belief.
And now Brown is back where it all began: in the college game. And it’s clear that he has no plans to slow down any time soon, age be damned. Moreover, it should be noted that in an AP Top 25 where the average age of the coaches amongst those teams is about 54 and a half, someone 20 years older is kicking butt, taking names and probably has the most impressive story of them all. Keep in mind that when Brown’s mentor, Dean Smith, coached his final game, he was only 66. It’s becoming clearer and clearer that despite his age, Brown wants one more shot at greatness, and with SMU.
But he still has a long way to go. Selection Sunday is a few days away and the Mustangs will definitely get a shot, but they first need to get through the AAC Tournament, which will start for them on Friday. If they can breeze through that and get a decent draw in the national tournament, there’s no telling how far this team can go.
With Brown manning the sidelines and showing nothing but confidence in his squad, this is definitely a team to get excited about. Then again, though he doesn’t show it, nobody is probably more excited than Brown himself.
*Section Photo credit to Andy Lyons, Getty Images; Featured Photo (above) credit to Sarah Bentham, AP Photo