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Hello, Trouble, I'm Dale Brown
Gary Smith
November 18, 1985
LSU's basketball coach, the center of many a storm, is trapped by his hardscrabble past and an athletic system that he says he cannot abide
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November 18, 1985

Hello, Trouble, I'm Dale Brown

LSU's basketball coach, the center of many a storm, is trapped by his hardscrabble past and an athletic system that he says he cannot abide

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Losing at halftime, the coach followed his team off the floor at Tennessee, where a young man in a wheelchair shouted abuse at him every year. He stomped toward the man, aching to grab him. Something stopped him; he put his arm around him instead. He found out later that the paralyzed man had no money and could not afford tuition for school.
I'll help you, he thought. Today the heckler attends LSU on scholarship and is one of Brown's statisticians.

No one understood Dale Brown. On a motivational speaking tour in South Korea in 1975, he stood on the 38th parallel and peered through binoculars at the thicket of Communist soldiers staring back through binoculars at him. "Every whisper we make here, they can pick up," a U.S. general informed him. "Really?" said Brown. He hopped onto a concrete slab and began to tap-dance and sing Tea for Two.

He so detested weakness in himself he would fill his refrigerator with Cokes just to prove he need not touch one. He stiffened and shut his door on anyone who tried to preach religion. And was so quick to dispense tape cassettes and pamphlets and poems and sermons promoting his team and his proposed NCAA rule changes and the power of positive thinking, other coaches stiffened at his presence and called him the Preacher.

When Tito Horford was being recruited by LSU and other schools, he accused Brown of offering a car and a job to his stepbrother. Brown denied it and said he wouldn't take Horford "if he crawled up the steps of the Assembly Center." A few weeks later Brown was posing for team pictures with Horford at the Assembly Center.

He was a natural speed-reader out of impatience, a line-up-changer out of impulse, a remote-control channel changer so frenetic that he drove his wife and daughter from the living room. And yet, at 50, he still lived with the same woman after 26 years, in the same house he bought 14 years ago for $38,000. Entering this, his 14th year at LSU, he had one of the longest coaching tenures in the country.

The NCAA Manual sat on top of the Bible on his end table. A song lived next to a scream in his soul.

"From the moment they snipped the umbilical cord," Brown says, "I've been in the middle of controversy."

Three days after the snipping, in the midst of the Depression, Agnes Brown telephoned her husband to come to the hospital to get them. No answer. No husband. No father. All she had was the $4 in her purse. She used most of it for the taxi home.

They lived over a dingy bar and a hardware store with his two older sisters, sharing a bathroom with 20 other tenants and praying the $42.50 welfare check wouldn't run out before the month did. His mother was a timid, terrified woman, devoutly Catholic. Her heart was weak, her liver bad, her varicose veins painful. Dale winced as a welfare worker sat in their one-room apartment and harangued his sobbing mother about finding a job. He wanted to cry for his mother's helplessness and to scream at her for it.

His mother wanted him to become a priest. "At five," he says, "I became the youngest altar boy in the history of the Western hemisphere." At nine he took his first job, washing windows at a jewelry store. He would move on to other jobs as a helper in the furniture warehouse, shoeshine boy, grocery carry-out boy, ball boy, bellhop, then selling hot dogs at rodeos, shoveling manure at local farms, driving railroad spikes, driving a school bus, driving a taxi. Driving, always driving. "Every day of my life I was trying to plant a flag on Iwo Jima," he says.

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