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Larry Keith
December 24, 1979
UCLA basketball once was a dynasty of dynasties, but two losses last week showed how far the mighty have fallen
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December 24, 1979

The Bruins Are In Ruins

UCLA basketball once was a dynasty of dynasties, but two losses last week showed how far the mighty have fallen

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Brown is under no immediate pressure to produce a champion, but he knows that the understanding and patience of the UCLA fans and Los Angeles media can last only so long. Thus far everyone has been remarkably kind. Morgan feels "warm and good" about Brown's performance to date. Wilkes says UCLA would have been national champion the last few years if Brown had been coach, and Wooden himself wrote Brown a note before the Notre Dame trip, saying it would be nice if Brown could develop some backcourt players like Walt Hazzard, Mike Warren or even Larry Brown, North Carolina 1960-1963, ABA 1968-1972.

UCLA needs more than that, however. A forward like Sidney Wicks and a center like Bill Walton are more like it. At present, Brown believes it will be at least two more years before UCLA will again be a serious challenger for the national title. He thinks he will be given the opportunity to do the job, not because his contract is for three years, but because "the people who support the program probably feel they should take it easy on the new guy since they don't want to lose another coach."

Brown realizes, though, that big success—the national championship or at least making the final four—is the only kind that will satisfy most Bruin fans. Sitting in his office last week, he pointed to four of the 17 conference trophies UCLA has won in the last 18 years. "When I moved in I saw these under a table," he said. "At most schools even one of these is important. I wanted to put them out where people could see them."

At UCLA, the conference championship has been an incidental trinket and national prominence a way of life. Now, for the first time in 14 years, the Bruins could lose the Pac-10 title—although their chief competition, Oregon State, showed in losing to Portland that it might not be quite up to plucking the prize.

Ten national championship banners hang overhead in Pauley Pavilion, but the wild fan enthusiasm is absent. Brown may sit where Wooden sat, but he must share a secretary with several other coaches. When Brown resigned as coach of the Denver Nuggets last Feb. 1, he had a five-year, $980,000 contract that was loaded with extras. At UCLA he makes $40,000 a year, has to trade four season tickets for the use of a Cadillac and can afford a home close to campus only because a group of UCLA boosters agreed to buy it and lease it back to him with the understanding he could buy it next year.

But Brown came to UCLA for love, not money. Even though he won five division championships in six seasons as an ABA and NBA coach, he resigned after a frustrating 28-25 start in 1978-79. "When I left I was crushed," he says. "I didn't feel good about myself. I knew I wanted to get back into coaching, but I was scared to death to go back to being a professional coach. I didn't like what I saw happening to the pro game—the long season and the 24-second clock. Now when I'm on the court teaching, I feel like I've got the greatest job in the world. I can say anything, and the players don't question my motives. They want to get better and they respect my intent."

They had better. Because this year, more than ever before, the UCLA players are going to need all the coaching they can get.

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