The Dagger: College Basketball Blog

SMU hires Larry Brown, a boom-or-bust gamble if ever there was one

Jeff Eisenberg
The Dagger

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Larry Brown (Getty Images)

Nearly a quarter century after he led Kansas on an unlikely run to the 1988 national title, Hall of Fame coach Larry Brown is apparently returning to his college roots.

The well-traveled 71-year-old accepted an offer to become SMU's next coach, ESPN.com reported Tuesday afternoon. An announcement confirming that report could come as soon as late Tuesday, marking the end of a meandering 35-day coaching search that included rejections from splashy names like Marquette's Buzz Williams, Harvard's Tommy Amaker and Saint Louis' Rick Majerus.

The idea of hiring Brown to resuscitate SMU's long-struggling program is not one I'm fond of because Brown's age and nomadic track record promise to make recruiting a challenge. Whereas NBA teams have found success hiring Brown to oversee their rebuilding process and then leave two or three years later, that system will be difficult to duplicate at the collegiate level.

Brown boasts few ties to the Dallas-area high school and club scene, and might not be able to handle the rigors of long days away from home recruiting anyway. Plus, recruits won't come to a school if they aren't confident the current head coach will stay long enough to coach them, especially when opposing schools are in their ear whispering that Brown could leave at any moment.

What makes me have a glimmer of hope for SMU under Brown is the staff ESPN.com reports he's trying to land would be top-notch.

Brown is hoping to get well-respected Illinois State coach Tim Jankovich as an associate head coach and coach in waiting, a vital move to combat the perception of instability atop the program. He also is expected to lure former Illinois assistant Jerrance Howard, a top-notch recruiter, and Kentucky's Rod Strickland, who has served in an administrative role under John Calipari the past two years.

Brown, the only coach to ever win both an NCAA and NBA championship, has a reputation as one of the game's best teachers and a history of short-term rebuilding success, but the question will be if he has enough energy left to tackle this challenge.

SMU is joining the Big East even though its basketball pedigree pales in comparison to its new conference foes. This is a program that hasn't been to the NCAA tournament since 1993, didn't finish above .500 in Conference USA in any of former coach Matt Doherty's six seasons and loses by far its best player off a 19-loss team.

The only good part about SMU's lousy recent history is that it won't take much for Brown to exceed expectations.

If recruiting remains stagnant, Brown's interest wanes and the initial buzz from his arrival dissipates, then SMU athletic director Steve Orsini's boom-or-bust hire will have exploded in his face. But if Brown stays two or three years, replenishes the roster and paves the way for a smooth transition to Jankovich, that should be considered a success.

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