Did We Make Larry Brown or Did He Make Us?

It is a simple enough question, made even more bittersweet by the fact that his latest sanction has occurred at SMU; a school with a tragic history, albeit football rather than basketball.

Coach Larry BrownNow SMU has been banned from any possibility of tournament play in 2016 and Coach Larry Brown has been suspended for nine games. They have also lost nine scholarship slots as well. Writers and analysts, including Dick Vitale are asking if it is time for Coach Brown to hang up his whistle and clipboard and head off into the sunset.

Larry Brown is regarded as one of the finest basketball minds in history. He not only won the NCAA championship but an NBA championship. He started his collegiate coaching career in the 1960s and his professional coaching career in the 1970s. As with many geniuses, Coach Brown is flawed.

Coach Brown got UCLA in trouble in the early 1980s, he got Kansas in trouble in the late 1980s, and after a three team stint around the NBA, he returned to the collegiate ranks to coach the SMU Mustangs.

Before we go any further, it is worth mentioning that Brown had contentious relationships with players and management throughout his NBA career. It is true that he was once the highest paid coach in basketball. That’s good. He has a lot of money set aside to appreciate fishing or golf or filling out brackets or most anything else he enjoys.

While he should have more than enough money in the bank to do whatever the heck he wants, it doesn’t take away from the fact that the SMU Mustangs are in hot water and he helped put them there. Whether he will keep his job after his latest screw-up is in doubt. This time around, Coach Brown turned his back on NCAA compliance issues, including academic fraud and lying to officials. He is batting 3 for 3 in collegiate scandals.

Pile on, but not so fast

Remember the expression, “Winning isn’t everything; it’s the only thing?” No, Vince Lombardi did not originate it; it was some other guy years earlier. The expression has stuck because it is what we have come to believe as a society.

The first year Larry Brown came to SMU he took a lousy team and returned them to respectability with a 15-17 record. Then last year he brought them to 27-10. He took them to the NIT and they lost in the finals. For this coming season, he was able to attract great recruits. Why? Because he is a winner.

I teach sports ethics. I don’t coach basketball. Sometimes athletes and coaches hate me even more than they hate officials, which is very funny. I am on their side. Officials are supposed to be neutral. I am not.

What got me into this line of work were some mistakes I made many years ago. To turn my life around, I went through deep changes as a person and I had no choice but to understand the consequences of my actions.

I could talk about Larry Brown in old school terms; that he is past it. I don’t buy such reasoning. He wasn’t old school in the early 80s or the late 80s for that matter. SMU wanted a winner. They got a winner.

What they weren’t looking for was good ethics.

As fans or boosters, as AD’s or assistants; as athletes and trainers and even some in the media, we like to talk in platitudes and we like to hear them. We like to believe athletes or coaches when they say things like: “I’ve moved on,” or “Let’s put it behind us,” or “We are aware on the allegations.” Here is another platitude: “Words are Cheap.”

What SMU got in 2015, UCLA got in 1981.

Do I have an axe to grind with Coach Brown? No, I do not; no more than the axe I would grind with any of us who believe that the only thing to take away from sports is a win. It is not so easy. Ethics matter very much. In the end, who we are is more important than what we have done.

For more info about Sports Ethics LLC

Chuck Gallagher, President  (828) 244-1400





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