Friday, January 3, 2014

UConn Coach Larry Brown? Many Years Ago, It Nearly Happened

Of all the head coaching jobs Larry Brown has had over the years – and there have been 13 of them, between college basketball, the NBA and the ABA – his first one very nearly was at UConn.

Brown was Dean Smith’s assistant coach at North Carolina in 1967 when Jim Hickey, the former UNC football coach who had just taken the athletic director’s job at UConn, offered him the Husky job that had been just vacated by Fred Shabel, who had left for Penn.

Brown, 26 at the time, politely declined.

“I was just a little bit nervous about me being that young,” he recalled on Friday morning, prior to leading his newest team, SMU, in practice. “It was my second year as a coach. Even though, playing for Coach (Frank) Maguire and Coach Smith and Mr. (Henry) Iba (in the 1964 Olympics), having an opportunity to coach your own team – coach let me coach the freshman team, even though I was involved with the varsity – I just thought maybe I was too young. So, I passed it up.”

Instead, UConn hired Burr Carlson, who was subsequently fired after two poor – (11-13, 5-19) seasons.

“I wouldn’t have been 5-19,” Brown promised.

In 1969, Dee Rowe was hired and helped lead the program back to respectability. And, of course, when Jim Calhoun took over in 1986, UConn went on to unprecedented success – three national titles, four Final Fours, etc.

For all his success – induction into Naismith Hall of Fame, only coach to win NBA and NCAA titles – Brown doesn’t look back on what could have been had he taken the UConn job.

“Nobody could’ve done what Jim (Calhoun) did, what Dee did,” Brown noted. “Except Dee played that damn 2-3 zone.”

In fact, Brown has few regrets at all when it comes to his coaching career. Still, the one thing he might have done differently is stay in the college game a bit longer.

“I’ve been so lucky,” he said. “Coach Maguire and Coach Smith and Coach (John) McLendon were really mentors for me. Coach Smith spent 36 years at North Carolina. If you go over his first five years – the scandal when he got the job, there were a lot of issues – they were not smooth for him. I would’ve liked to have been able to stay at one place. Even though I love the pros, I wouldn’t change one of those jobs for anything, I just think I’m more of a college coach. But I think as a pro coach now, you’re coaching college kids.

“I would’ve liked to have had the opportunity to have families come back, ex-players come back. That’s why I love being here now. (Saturday), we’re going to have a lot of ex-players coming back. I used to take a lot of pride in Coach Smith remembering everybody’s name, every family member’s name. There was some continuity to being a Carolina player.”

There will be a family atmosphere on Saturday against UConn. Some of Brown’s former NBA players – including Allen Iverson and Dikembe Mutombo – are expected to be at the game. And, of course, so will UConn coach Kevin Ollie, who played with Iverson and Mutombo under Brown with the 76ers in 2000-01.

"I’m proud of Kevin, I admire what he’s done and what he’s going to continue to do,” said Brown. “But, it’s like playing against Danny (Manning), there’s no fun in that. But, the one nice thing is, when you play Connecticut, you know you’re in a big-time conference, playing against the type of team that I was hopeful we’d have the opportunity to play when we came here.”

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