The Big Mac Blog

SMU’s Larry Brown is still a brilliant hire

In three seasons at SMU, Larry Brown has led the Mustangs to an NIT Finals, an NCAA appearance and now NCAA probation.
In three seasons at SMU, Larry Brown has led the Mustangs to an NIT Finals, an NCAA appearance and now NCAA probation. AP

If he quit at noon, I would hire Larry Brown at 12:01 p.m. — baggage and all. He is one of the best teachers of basketball alive today.

Every team or school that hired Larry Brown took the following risk: He’s going to leave and he’s going to put your team on probation, but he will make your team relevant, and he will win a lot of games.

To the surprise of no one, SMU men’s basketball under Brown has run afoul of the NCAA and finds itself on probation. It’s odd that the University of North Carolina can have a massive academic fraud scandal and nothing happens, and yet SMU gets popped quickly.

On Tuesday, SMU and Brown felt the selective wrath of the NCAA:

▪ Banned from 2016 postseason play.

▪ Brown has been suspended for 30 percent of the team’s games this season, or nine games.

▪ SMU will lose nine scholarships over the next three years.

▪ On probation for the next three years.

▪ All of the wins that the player in question participated in, all during the 2013-14 season, must be vacated.

▪ There is also some stuff about the men’s golf program, which included the involvement of a booster — it’s not an SMU violation without a booster — but who cares?

The case reportedly involves guard Keith Frazier, who was one of the highest-ranked recruits Brown landed after he arrived. Frazier has been a problem for Brown because college coursework either was too difficult for him or he simply didn’t want to do it. Either is plausible.

According to the NCAA, the adults were doing some of the schoolwork for Frazier so he could be eligible. Brown found out, and didn’t exactly do a lot about it until he had to.

Hall of Fame announcer Dick Vitale loves Brown, but he is sick of this show; he wrote on ESPN.com today that Brown should no longer be allowed to coach in college.

On a conference call with reporters this morning, I asked NCAA infractions committee chairman Michael Adams if Brown was compliant in the investigative process, or if he remained defiant.

“Coach Brown did uh … uh … meet with the staff and he appeared before the committee …uh … and that’s probably frankly responsive to the question,” Adams said.

Not really, but OK.

This was always, always, always going to happen when SMU hired LB. When he coached UCLA and Kansas in the ’80s, both programs landed on NCAA probation. His primary concern is coaching kids to win basketball games. The end.

According to the NCAA, Larry Brown did not create an atmosphere of compliance with the NCAA — basically because he didn’t care. The only reason Larry Brown took the SMU job was because, after several decades, the NBA finally decided he was too old for a spot on the bench or the front office.

There is a reason why SMU called him: It was desperate. And he was still a brilliant hire by SMU in the spring of 2012. This is why: In three seasons, he made SMU basketball games an event; Moody Coliseum became a place to be in the crowded Dallas landscape. SMU basketball was a source of national interest. Do you know how hard that is?

SMU under LB:

2012-13: 15-17

2013-14: 27-10, NIT Finals

2014-15: 27-7, NCAA Tournament first round; finished season ranked 18th nationally in the AP poll.

Larry Brown was the closest thing to a sure thing SMU could find, and he wanted to work. Virtually no one else SMU could have hired would have made the type of impact he made.

Unfortunately, as nearly every other team that has hired him knows, there is a trade-off. Tuesday, SMU experienced the bad side of a Larry Brown deal.

Mac Engel: 817-390-7697, tengel@star-telegram.com, @macengelprof

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