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September 30, 2015

With Larry Brown and the NCAA, there is no ‘right way’

Larry Brown and the SMU men’s basketball program are in some hot water, and the hot takes rained down on the former Sixers coach from all angles. I don’t necessarily mean “hot takes” as in bad opinions, either. People are fed up with Brown.

So angry, in fact, that prominent national voices are calling for Brown’s head. Michael Rosenberg wants the school to fire Brown. Pat Forde suggested kicking SMU out of the NCAA entirely! Even Dick Vitale took time off from his award-winning Periscope to chime in that Brown should be banned from college coaching.

Truth be told, I’m not a huge fan of Brown’s, even if it’s impossible to argue with how good he has been at his job throughout a long career. Back in 2001, he authored one of this city’s most memorable basketball chapters by guiding Allen Iverson and a bunch of limited gamers to the NBA Finals. The coaching job he did that season is unassailable.

As is the one that Brown did in 2004, when he led the balanced but superstar-less Detroit Pistons to a convincing title over the disintegrating Los Angeles Lakers. It’s how he got there that bothers me: Brown and the Sixers made the second round of the 2003 playoffs and fell to the Pistons in a tight series. Within a month, he was coaching Detroit after resigning from the Sixers.

What Brown did in skipping town was no crime. Heck, it was pretty smart. If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em, right? I just wish he would stop constantly using holier-than-thou terms like “the right way” and calling himself “a teacher,” making it seem like he has a higher calling than winning basketball games. If that were the case, he would have stuck around in Philly… or Indiana, or San Antonio, or Kansas, or anywhere else.

Brown has recently been publicly critical of the Sixers’ rebuild, which one wouldn’t expect a coaching vagabond or mercenary (depending on how you look at things) to understand. Whether or not “The Plan” works out, the Sixers are at least trying to build something that is long-lasting, something that is foreign to Brown. 

Considering all of his baggage, the news that Brown was again caught breaking the rules very well could elicit schadenfreude. No college hoops coach has ever caused three different institutions to receive postseason bans before, not even legendary rule-breakers like Tark. Making matters worse, Brown is batting 1.000, having only coached three schools. The 75-year-old coach was practicing the right way to get caught, perhaps. 

And yet, it’s impossible to take pleasure in Brown’s situation because the NCAA is the body doling out the punishment. Larry’s corruption can’t even touch the NCAA’s corruption! Just a couple of years ago, the rules were different and Brown might have been able to plead ignorance to avoid punishment.

There is also the question of how glaring Brown’s past mistakes truly are. At UCLA for example, Sam Gilbert was the main booster in question. After the fact, Gilbert was far more frequently linked to legendary coach John Wooden’s dynasty:

What really makes yesterday’s news a bummer is that the defending AAC champs, a bunch of powerless players, just learned their Top-25 team won’t be able to participate in the postseason this year. The group includes senior big man Markus Kennedy, a Philly native and Villanova transfer who last year was the conference’s top sixth man. Why they’re getting punished (and punished with school already in session) is unclear. It’s certainly unfair.

But players getting left high and dry isn't uncommon when either the NCAA or Larry Brown is involved.

Follow Rich on Twitter: @rich_hofmann