SMU hoops will get exposure, if not wins, with Brown leading the way
SMU athletic director Steve Orsini ended a frustrating search by hiring Larry Brown
The hope for SMU is Brown lights a fire that will lead to future success
SMU is entering the Big East on a 19-year streak on not making the NCAAs
Nineteenth-century British prime minister and author Benjamin Disraeli once said "Desperation is sometimes as powerful an inspirer as genius." With the hire of coaching legend and septuagenarian serial employment philanderer Larry Brown, SMU athletic director Steve Orsini went one philosophical level deeper. He's made a move that smacks of both driving forces.
Having already been rejected several times during his coaching search, Orsini was left with a couple of unsavory options. He could spin the wheel on a relative no-name, hope he guesses right, and see the fruits of improvement a few years down the road after a brutal introduction to life as a big boy in the Big East. Or he could go for immediate gratification by throwing huge money (by modern Mustang standards) at one of the giants of the coaching realm, someone who was as desperate as Orsini.
Orsini chose Choice B, even waiting awkwardly while Brown flirted with and was (assumedly) shot down by an alternative option in Portland. Hey, without pride, there is no shame.
Yet those who are guffawing about how badly Orsini butchered his search to have to come begging to Brown are ignoring a salient point. The salient point. Brown clearly is a competent choice, but it's not about that. It's not about how many games he wins or how long Brown will stay or whom his hand-picked successor will be. It's about this column. And others like it. And a week of news stories. And relentless Twitter buzz.
Orsini hired Brown for right now, this moment, where for the first time in ages, we're talking about SMU basketball. That's the genius in this particular moment of desperation. No other realistic hire could have done that.
Ignore any rational evaluation of whether this might work. Hiring Brown to head up a college program is, in almost every way, preposterous. He'll be 72 years old when the season begins, or about four times the age of the kids he's allegedly recruiting. He had enough disregard for the rules the last time around that he landed both UCLA and Kansas under NCAA investigation; oh yeah, SMU has a bit of a history of athletics malfeasance and the basketball program is actually on probation right now.
Forget Brown understanding current social media and texting protocols. The last time he coached in college, telnet was the hot technology and there were (assumedly) no restrictions on "fingering" a potential prospect. He's had 10 jobs in the last 33 years, meaning there's practically no chance any of his first recruits will finish their careers playing for him.
You could playfully argue that he has prior experience with conference realignment, as Brown was the head coach of the Denver Nuggets when the ABA team merged into the NBA. By the way, that was in 1976. Plus, there's some nostalgia involved. How many coaches get to celebrate the silver anniversary of their exit from the college game with a new seven-figure-a-year gig?
Still, there is no denying Brown's elite coaching acumen, especially given he'll now be dealing with unpaid kids eager to "talk about practice." Brown is one of the game's all-time best Xs and Os guys, and if he can offload all of the ancillary errata on his handpicked assistants and just concern himself with coaching, closing the deal with recruits and glad-handing with the 10-gallon hats who paid his freight, it could work ... for a bit anyway. Until he gets frustrated or bored. Again. Which will happen. Quickly.
That inevitability doesn't really matter, though. Not even Orsini can believe Brown will be the coach who leads SMU to any level of Big East prosperity. The league, even diluted by realignment, will be a bear and legit progress, even if Brown and Co. can finally tap into the elite talent from Dallas and around the state, will be slow. SMU has waffled between mediocre and bad in three different conferences since its last NCAA berth in 1993 and, both locally and nationally, no one cares.
What Orsini is banking on is that Brown is the match that eventually lights the flame. Then under Tim Jankovich or some other coach-in-waiting, SMU can start to build a sustainable fire. Brown is less an investment in a coach and more a breakout line in the school's marketing budget. Heck, the school may have already raked back Brown's first year of salary in bonus media exposure. It hasn't been all positive, but it's been, which is a lot more than SMU normally gets.
Anyone who's followed Brown's itinerant career knows this has a huge chance of ending disappointingly (and quickly). Even after pocketing around $30 million for one terrible season's work with the Knicks, the next gig with the next paycheck has always appealed to Brown. There's something refreshing, though, about Orsini's final tack. He's going in wide-eyed, ready to use Brown in this marriage of convenience as much as Brown is using him. At least this way, the breakup won't hurt very much.