Larry Brown’s record is mind-boggling.
Not the NCAA championship or the NBA title. Not the 1,500-plus career victories or the fact he’s won almost 60% of games he’s coached.
No, the stat that really stands out is 3-for-3. As in, at all three of his stops as a college coach, Brown’s programs have been hit hard by NCAA violations.
“I have nothing to be ashamed of in any of those cases,” Brown said Tuesday after the NCAA suspended him and banned SMU from the postseason for multiple infractions including academic fraud and unethical conduct.
“I’m proud of the things we’ve achieved.”
Which is what, exactly? Notoriety? Humiliation? Prime placement on the NCAA’s Wall of Shame?
As a result of misdeeds under Brown’s watch, UCLA had to vacate its 1980 Final Four appearance, one of only 11 teams to endure such embarrassment. Kansas is still the only school banned from defending its NCAA title after the Jayhawks were found in 1988 to have committed several recruiting violations, including Brown’s “handouts” to a potential transfer.
Now the Mustangs are dredging up their role as the NCAA’s poster children for bad behavior after a basketball administrator helped former McDonald’s All-American Keith Frazier with schoolwork that allowed him to be eligible at SMU.
“Larry Brown had NCAA probs @ Kansas UCLA & now SMU / how in the world is he allowed to coach this season?” longtime college basketball analyst Dick Vitale said on Twitter after the violations were announced.
There’s no question Brown is a brilliant coach. The Hall of Famer has won everywhere he’s been, at every level, and it doesn’t take long for him to turn the sad-sack teams he inherits into contenders.
He needed all of two seasons at SMU to make the Mustangs part of the national conversation, three to get them into the NCAA tournament for the first time in 20-plus years. This year, the Mustangs are expected to be a top-25 team, success that was helping SMU to emerge from the darkness that had enveloped the entire athletic department for 30 years, ever since the death penalty was imposed on the football program.
But Brown may as well be the Angel of Death, albeit in a track suit and sneakers, for the trail of destruction he leaves.
Though Brown wasn’t found to have any direct knowledge of the academic misconduct, he was still suspended for 30% of SMU’s games this season and hit with a two-year show-cause order for the dreaded “lack of control” and for lying to investigators.
“I now realize that every time you are investigated by the NCAA, it’s a big deal,” Brown said after Kansas was busted back in 1988.
SMU says it’s considering an appeal, self-righteously protesting the punishments as unfair to the players.
“What I have trouble with is how (the penalties affect) student-athletes who didn’t have a part in this,” athletic director Rick Hart said.
Brown’s vagabond ways and checkered past with the NCAA are common knowledge. SMU knew it was playing with fire by hiring him in 2012 and the Mustangs went ahead and did it anyway, so desperate were they to return to athletic relevance.
And for what? One NCAA tournament bid and a trashed reputation.
As good a coach as Brown is, he has no place in the college game. His price for success is simply too high for any school to pay.
This article was republished with permission from the original author and 2015 Ronald Reagan Media Award recipient, Nancy Armour, and the original publisher, USA Today.