DALLAS - There’s a school of thought going around that, by hiring septuagenarian Larry Brown, SMU athletic director Steve Orsini has lost his mind.
Brown is a 'now' hire for a 'later' job, so say these scholars; a short timer who so desperately wants to embark on one last swan song that not even Brown himself is pausing to consider his deficiencies for it. In particular, a lack of gravitas in the AAU-dominated world of recruiting, his checkered history with NCAA rules violations and his perpetual flirtation with the bigger job, to name three.
SMU, they contend, can – and should – do better.
These people are not dealing in reality.
Fact: SMU has not made the NCAA Tournament since 1993.
Fact: To find the last time SMU won a game in the Big Dance, you have to go all the way back to 1988.
Fact: SMU basketball, in its entire existence, has produced a grand total of eight players who have played an NBA game. Its most notable product, Jon Koncak, was a journeyman center who retired with a career stat line of 4.5 points and 4.9 rebounds.
Fact: The average attendance at Moody Coliseum last season was 2,013. Moody’s capacity is a hair under 9,000.
Cobble all those bitter truths together, and you have one final fact: the Mustangs are one of the least relevant properties in all the college basketball landscape.
So, no, SMU cannot do better than 71 year-old Larry Brown. It could do a hell of a lot worse, though.
The ink even isn’t dry on the contract, and already Brown has accomplished something unseen in decades; he has people talking about the program.
Every spectrum of opinion has emerged since news broke of the two parties’ courtship, but even the most unsavory has given SMU more thought and exposure than it could have possibly garnered otherwise. That isn’t just the case locally, where Mustang basketball is one rung above high school volleyball in the sports hierarchy, but nationally as well. Under what other set of circumstances could SMU basketball hope to get mentioned on "Pardon the Interruption?"
There’s zero doubt that Brown will be packing his bags for greener pastures within three seasons, but what’s also guaranteed is that for however long he calls Dallas home, people will be paying attention and attention attracts recruits. Upgrade the talent quotient, and suddenly the Mustangs have a chance.
Of course, that sliver of a window is hardly a recipe for long-term success, but when your history is as barren as SMU’s is, all there is to sell is the here and now. Which is to say, there hasn’t been much to be sell on the Hilltop in quite some time.
That same bunch of critics has lambasted Orsini for hiring a coach who won’t complete a rebuilding process, but that's missing the point, because it implies that there is something to reconstruct in the first place. Sure, there were a pair of three-consecutive-season NCAA Tournament appearances some 50 years ago – including a Final Four, no less – but with just 10 tournament nods in close to a century, SMU basketball, for all intents and purposes, has never been built.
Larry Brown won’t be the man to see that task through. What he can be is the one who lays down the foundation, a master architect etching a blueprint steeped in the success he garnered as the only man to win a championship in both at the collegiate and professional level.
The initial step in building anything is making people care about the project.
None of Brown’s predecessors could do that in years on the job; he wrapped it up before even shaking Orsini’s hand for the first time. Look at it through that prism, then, and it becomes readily apparent why Orsini tabbed Brown as his man – and why the risk of Brown failing, or bolting, or perhaps even cheating is worth the reward, because none of those things stings quite like irrelevance.
There is nowhere for the Mustangs to go but up. Whether Brown can haul them there on his stooped back remains to be seen but, for once, SMU basketball has guaranteed that it will be just that – seen.
If that’s truly the best SMU could do, things certainly could have turned out to be a lot worse.
Mike Piellucci is a freelance blogger for WFAA.com, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.