Why hiring Larry Brown would be a colossal mistake by SMU

Jeff Eisenberg

Thirty-four days into an overly ambitious coaching search featuring failed attempts to land the likes of Buzz Williams, Tommy Amaker and Rick Majerus, SMU athletic director Steve Orsini has finally found someone unlikely to reject his offer.

The trouble is his newest leading candidate could not be more ill-suited for the job.

Larry Brown, the well-traveled 71-year-old former NBA and college coach, interviewed with SMU officials in Dallas on Sunday, the Dallas Morning News reported. Since Brown's age and track record of leaving jobs after two or three years likely ensures he'd be a short-term solution, he has reportedly proposed hiring UNC-Wilmington coach Buzz Peterson as an assistant and coach-in-waiting.

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Although Brown has a winning track record, an interest in coaching in college again and a reputation as one of the premier teachers of the game, any potential short-term boost he could provide SMU would be undone by the challenges he'd face recruiting.

Brown's staff would likely have to do the bulk of the recruiting since he hasn't coached in college basketball since 1988, boasts few ties to the Dallas-area high school and club scene, and might not be able to handle the rigors of being on the road anyway. Furthermore, that challenge would be complicated by the perception that nomadic Brown isn't likely to stay very long anyway.

Whereas NBA teams have found success hiring Brown to oversee their rebuilding process and then leave two or three years later, that system cannot work at the collegiate level. 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.

The idea of a coach-in-waiting was shrewd on SMU's part since it combats the perception of instability in the program, but even that is not enough to make bringing Brown aboard an idea worthy of consideration.

It's too easy to recruit against the idea of a coach-in-waiting since so many of them never end up receiving the job they were promised. Plus, considering how Peterson has failed to make UNC-Wilmington viable in the CAA, is he really the best choice to transform a basketball program with minimal pedigree or tradition into a viable Big East contender?

SMU's job is more appealing than it once was since the Mustangs are joining the Big East and making a new-found financial commitment to basketball, but the gig isn't nearly as good as the school's administration seems to believe.

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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. DePaul was more successful in a far stronger Conference USA in the late-'90s and early 2000s, yet look how it has struggled since going to the Big East.

What SMU needed to do is find an up-and-coming head coach or high-major assistant who could sink his teeth into that rebuilding process, someone like a Johnny Jones, who is now off the market, or a Tony Benford, who has already interviewed. There's still time for Orsini to end talks with Brown and make such a move, but right now that's uncertain at best.

No matter how many times Orsini struck out swinging for the fences during this endless search, he always had an opportunity to salvage the process by making a shrewd, under-the-radar hire.

Unfortunately for SMU, the Brown/Peterson duo probably wouldn't qualify.

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