When Dale Brown was nine years old, he set fire to the building where he worked. He didn't mean to. Something he didn't understand drove him to strike a match in the furniture warehouse and light the piece of straw sticking out from the leg of a chair. It made him feel fearless and free. Suddenly the chair was in flames and the feeling was gone. He raced into the street unnoticed, up the stairs to the family apartment just a few doors away, and into the bathroom.
He pulled down his pants, sat on the toilet and put his head in his hands, heart hammering, each scream of the sirens and every sound of the people outside intensifying his guilt. He heard his mother coming home from church, crying in anguish, "Oh, I just know he was in that building working. I know it."
Her son emerged from the bathroom, all innocence and puzzlement. "What's going on, Mom? I've been in here the whole time with diarrhea." And for months people in Minot, N. Dak. whispered that the Communists had done it.
Forty-one years passed, and Dale Brown heard the alarms ringing and the people shouting once more, this time about his conduct as LSU basketball coach. Both the FBI and the NCAA were on his campus, and the press and fans and other coaches were zeroing in on LSU and him. Where there's Dale Brown there's fire. "Everybody," says a rival SEC coach, "thinks he's cheating."
"Dale Brown is so vulnerable, they'll reopen Devil's Island if he's done anything wrong," says Al McGuire.
No longer did Brown hide when he felt threatened. He attacked. He telephoned reporters at all hours of the night to refute their stories. He cried again and again for reform of NCAA rules on scholarship athletes. He tape-recorded his phone calls and team meetings, stockpiling evidence. He threatened to reveal information that he said would buckle the country's top basketball universities.
He slapped his right biceps and demanded that the NCAA attach him to a polygraph machine in front of a roomful of witnesses. "I will resign right now if everything I've said isn't 100—ever hear a coach say this before?—100 percent honest. That's a pretty powerful statement I'm making. If the NCAA tries to nail me, I'll blow away the top 10 programs in the country. I could give them enough information [about other schools] to keep them busy for the next 2½ millennia.
"See why I want to get out of coaching? I feel like I'm in the rifle scope of an assassin. I just want to be with my friends. Where else does a 50-year-old man chase a 17-year-old athlete? That's called pimpin' and hookin'. I hate it. When I go see another basketball game and watch the coach yelling at the referee and the players, I think, 'That's me. I must look like an absolute moron.' God, I'd be so happy to be in a village in Yugoslavia, sipping wine and eating bread and cheese. Why do I beat myself to death?"
Losing at halftime, the coach followed his team off the floor of Kentucky's arena, where over the years he had been booed, taunted, pelted with ice and heated pennies. The first half had been dangerously physical. "You're going to trigger a fight!" a photographer says he called to him.
"Kill Brown!" is what the coach heard. I'll show you, he thought. He grabbed a fistful of the photographer's flesh and shirt, twisted it and pinned him to the wall. "Arrest this man! He attacked me!" he screamed.