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Wise In The Ways Of The Wizard
Curry Kirkpatrick
November 30, 1981
Three rushed in where Wooden used to tread—then split. Now comes the fourth, Larry Farmer, truest of true believers
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November 30, 1981

Wise In The Ways Of The Wizard

Three rushed in where Wooden used to tread—then split. Now comes the fourth, Larry Farmer, truest of true believers

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As if Brown's $40,000 base pay the first year wasn't bad enough. This was more than Wooden ever made in the J.D. Morgan robber-baron days, but it was far less than at least 30 other major college coaches received and approximately one-sixth what Brown hauled in from the pros. The new coach had left a magnificent home in Colorado to find the California real estate market had gone nuts. Brown remembers hearing that Philadelphia Eagle Coach Dick Vermeil had made more money on the sale of his house in L.A. than he had earned in two years as head coach at UCLA. Some rich alumni (not Gilbert) purchased an abode for Brown to lease in fashionable Brentwood but he was uncomfortable with the arrangement. Babs Brown went to work at a travel agency. This was famous, classy UCLA and the coach's wife has to help make ends meet?

Brown's first year produced some outstanding recruits, but the coach began the season by playing the seniors in a mélange of multiple formations. The Bruins stumbled to an 8-6 record. Then Farmer suggested a return to simplicity. Brown inserted Slew Sanders at the high post, brought on the rookies, tightened up the x's and o's and roared to the NCAA finals. Washington State Coach George Raveling said Brown's first year produced "the finest coaching job in UCLA history."

Alas, last season was soiled by the Kenny Fields cause célèbre in which newcomer Fields sulked, missed practice, became a prima donna, was dismissed from the team and later was permitted to return. O'Connor labeled the Fields affair "an open wound." It was the kind of wound that—like Kiki Vandeweghe's missed juke-move layup against Louisville that probably cost the Bruins the previous season's NCAA championship—never was permitted under the Wooden reign.

While UCLA partisans were still chewing on the Fields affair, Brigham Young blew out UCLA 78-55 in the second round of the NCAA tournament, and soon Brown was gone to greener Meadowlands and the New Jersey Nets. "Everybody in the country told me not to take the UCLA job," he says, "but it was an unbelievable feeling to be the basketball coach there. I think it's like, well, our national team. Everything I did there was for the kids. I feel good about the shape I left the program in. I want to stress the positive. I felt it was an honor to hold that position." I'm just happy to be here. Perhaps Larry Farmer learned more than merely situation coaching from Brown. Obviously loyalty is an important part of Farmer's makeup. His three predecessors all agree that Farmer could be depended upon through good times and bad. The litmus test came during the regimes of Bartow and Brown, both of whom kept the basketball office at arm's length from Gilbert, who had always been a close friend to Farmer.

In the past Gilbert negotiated professional contracts for many UCLA players. Gilbert has been a financial adviser to Farmer. Sam and Rose Gilbert are occasional dinner companions of the Farmers'. Gilbert wears one of Larry's NCAA championship rings.

(Recently, Gilbert responded to an NCAA investigation into the UCLA basketball program by producing evidence that a loan he made to Walton took place after Walton had finished school. Gilbert also was questioned about the Thanksgiving dinner he annually hosted for the UCLA basketball team at his palatial home in Pacific Palisades. But he said he was not involved in the controversial purchase of automobiles by four UCLA players in the spring of 1980. "The world has become too crass," says Gilbert. "Every move I make is considered insidious, an NCAA violation by innuendo. If they only knew how many of these UCLA players we kept in school, how many problems wound up here [in the Gilbert study] and not over in the school's athletic department.")

"When I played at UCLA Sam held us spellbound with his NBA stories and his agentry talk," Farmer says. "But he isn't into that much anymore, and the players have gone in other directions. After he received so much attention and people became suspicious of his motives, Sam withdrew. He's old and tired now. The players can't eat over there anymore. It's against the rules unless the whole school eats there.

"I remember, as a student, once complaining about something," Farmer goes on. "But Sam stopped me in my tracks and said I was at UCLA for an education first and never to forget it. He has never put academics behind athletics. He has never bad-mouthed a coach to me. He's part of my personal life, period. I won't let him get involved in the basketball side. He respects that because he respects me."

UCLA's players, in the habit of enjoying a loose atmosphere around Farms the assistant, have discovered this new Farmer, the head man, means business. Senior Tony Anderson says that during the Brown years the head coach's office was open and the television always on. Players grabbed gobs of candy off the desk, plopped onto the sofa and kicked their feet up on the table. "There was so much candy you'd get pimples just looking at that desk," Anderson says. Brown was an arm-around-the-shoulder pal, just one of the guys. The other day Anderson had assumed the usual position, stretched out and laid back, when the new Farmer, Head Coach Farmer, entered. The older man snapped off the TV, demanded that Anderson ask for candy from then on, very little candy, and warned him against "wasting time" in the office. Anderson says it was as if a new boss had ordered him to work at nine when his body was used to waking up at noon. "It was a shock to my system," says Anderson. "I miss Coach's jokes. I miss having fun with him."

"You don't wonder whether Farms is serious anymore," Holton says. "You know he is serious."

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