Monday, April 23, 2012

SMU’s Gamble on Larry Brown

By Jean Neuberger

SMU is taking a unique gamble.

The Mustang program has been a financially loaded mid-major for years, still struggling to reach the BCS level following the aftermath of the death penalty that hit their football program. Athletic director Steve Orsini, deciding it was time to flex the financial muscles, lured June Jones away from Hawaii, and save a messy, near-exodus to Arizona State, Jones has been nothing but a positive for SMU.

Orsini decided to go the same route for the long struggling Mustang hoops program, taking a chance on the king of vagabond coaches. For Larry Brown, SMU is his 13th, and likely final stop in a wild, but great career.

However, Brown is 71, and with his flirtation with the Portland Trail Blazers for their general manager position having occurred right around the same time, it's easy to wonder if Brown will be able to make the impact on SMU basketball that Orsini really wants.

Like Brown, June Jones was an established head coach at the college and pro ranks. However, it certainly appears Jones still has a lot more years left in him than Brown. Jones also brings with him a style of offense that works for the Mustangs. Although deep in talent-rich Texas, SMU continuously has to fight for recruits with their old SWC foes, along with the Oklahoma schools and SEC schools such as LSU, Arkansas, and now Missouri. Jones and his high-powered passing attack gives the Mustangs a chance to steal some great talent in their own backyard.

Brown will struggle a bit in this aspect. Granted, the parity in college basketball is greater and the talent is deep enough in Texas to ensure every school recruiting the state is going to get some talent. But, with SMU's entry to the Big East, they've opened one of basketball's toughest leagues to invade Dallas like never before. Add to it that Brown doesn't have a seriously defined system, coupled with recruits questioning just how long he'll stay and the gamble on Brown is larger than many think, despite the consensus that he is a fantastic basketball coach.

The real question for SMU will be if current Illinois State coach Tim Jankovich accepts the "coach-in-waiting" position. If he does, the recruiting question is answered, which will help. It also cements the fact that Brown, using his name and resume, will try to lay a solid foundation for SMU in very little time, turning the keys over to launch a new program. And while Jankovich would be a good choice to take the reins, he also just finished a new contract with the Redbirds, so the decision is certainly conflicting for him. And, if he declines, SMU will have to anxiously find someone who is willing to bide his time for a couple of years.

On paper, the strategy was the same for Steve Orsini. Use SMU's location and wealth to land a big name to launch the Mustangs to a new level of success. June Jones will lead SMU into the Big East with potential to do quite well early. Larry Brown will lead the basketball team into unchartered waters, with pretty much everything up in the air and success very much an uncertainty.

It's a gamble, though, that the Mustangs are willing to take.

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