- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
Brown says: "I'm a nobody. I have no heritage. I'm an easy whipping boy. Is it any wonder we're the bad guys, the outlaws, that everybody is against us?" (Shades of the Oakland Raider gospel according to Al Davis.) Then, suddenly, "But I'm not Captain Queeg. It's just that my fuse goes off when I think people are being downtrodden, intimidated. My mind runs to Dachau."
At rest, Brown is a wit and a charmer, a connoisseur of fine wine, a bon vivant. He has traveled the world and he can turn a basketball phrase. "Thwart the cutting channels," he will holler at practice. But the volatility and controversy attached to his courtside ways—"You should have been a Kamikaze pilot in the Japanese navy," his wife, Vonnie, an ethnic-dance teacher, once told him—has overcome all that. What's more, his driven, hardscrabble personality has tended to overshadow the very team he has toiled so hard to develop.
Once in a game at Lexington, Ky., Brown screamed at the ref, "You've taken away everything else, here's my wardrobe." Then he ripped off his jacket and threw it out on center court. Not just on the court. On the Kentucky state map at center court. There went the refs and the fans. Once in a press conference Brown accused Kentucky of "brutalizing" the game; when asked if his own team was without sin, Brown demanded of a writer, "Have you ever masturbated?" There went the media. When Brown won his first SEC title in 1979 he wildly signaled for a championship banner to be lowered from the rafters even before the pennant-clinching victory over Alabama was finished. ("A quarter-century crawling on my hands and knees in the desert and I'm gonna wait 38 seconds for water?" he says now in defense.) There went the coaches. 0 for 4.
It wasn't astonishing that when Brown was named SEC Coach of the Year at the end of that season, he got the award under the stands at the league tournament because, LSU officials say, the league feared the announcement would inflame the hostile crowd in Birmingham.
Even this season, as LSU has virtually toyed with the opposition under a comparatively calm Brown, the critics rage. The coach has had to spend much of the time defending the virtue of his marauding hordes, especially of Center Greg Cook, the glowering "Cookieman" whose checkered career hasn't exactly been all chocolate chips. In addition, Brown has a running feud with Tulane Coach Roy Danforth, who, feeling the score had been piled up in a 1977 game (final: LSU 120, Tulane 88), called Brown "the worst s.o.b. I've ever coached against." Says Brown: "That punk. I could have laid him out with one punch."
What of the prophet in his own land? After an emotional pregame ceremony in Baton Rouge this year in which Brown, as only he could, recounted the courageous saga of Mark Alcorn, an LSU guard who has cancer of the lymph nodes, some furious fans wrote in to complain that the ceremony hadn't included the national anthem.
But has Joe Btfsplk now come out from under his cloud to find health and happiness on the LSU bench? "I believe a man controls his own destiny," Brown says. He gave that credo a heckuva shot in the Midwest Regional final between LSU and Louisville last March. A Tiger basket goes in at the final gun. The ref signals no good. Brown storms the scorer's table and stays there demanding that the basket be counted, demanding his rights, demanding justice, long after both teams have left the floor. The score remains: Louisville 86, LSU 66. A 20-point knife job.
"When the ship goes down, the admiral stays on the deck," Brown says of that incident. "We got our butts whipped, but I wasn't going down whimpering like a dog. We made that basket. We deserved it. We're not stars. There can only be so many Howard Bakers, Kenny Rogerses, Paul Harveys. But we want respect. If I don't make commitments like that, I might as well go back to pity in that one room in North Dakota."
Ah, but now the Tigers have the stars. Moreover, the dazzling LSU record confirms that the team has matured over the past two campaigns, both of which closed with LSU being eliminated from the NCAAs by the eventual national champion—Michigan State, then Louisville.
The difference in this year's edition, however, isn't merely in the growth or depth of the Tigers. They ran off 16 straight points in that regional final against Louisville to lead by eight at one juncture; arguably they had as much talent as any team in the land. What they had then was one talent too many, specifically DeWayne (Astronaut) Scales, who has since landed, psychological baggage and all, on the more compatible planet of the New York Knicks.