Thursday, April 19, 2012

Daily Discussion Question: Trent Johnson vs. Larry Brown.

If Brown wears that sweater on the sidelines in Dallas, I redact my skepticism.

By now you're likely aware that Larry Brown is probably going to be the next head coach at SMU.  I say probably because no contract has been signed and when we're talking about SMU coaches it's not like anyone on the current payroll has had a job offer pulled at the 11th hour or anything.  But, barring a relatively shocking turn of events, the 72 year old Brown is going to break back into the college basketball coaching ranks nearly 25 years after he broke out.  SMU targeted Brown fairly early and, after realizing their gobs of money weren't going to buy anyone better, finally tendered an offer over a month after starting their entire search.

So now that both TCU and SMU have made overpaying, questionable hires to upgrade their basketball programs, naturally the question becomes:  Who made the better hire?  lyle and I offered up our opinions last week regarding the hiring of Trent Johnson, but what should we make of SMU's hiring of Brown?

Personally, I'd give the hiring edge here to SMU if only because Brown is a big name and Johnson brings absolutely 0 WOW factor on the surface, but I don't think the gap is as wide as you might think.  You can't argue against Brown's credentials - the man won a National title at Kansas , has coached in 3 Final Fours and never missed the Dance during his 7 years in Lawrence and at UCLA.  Of course, those come with caveats as he left Kansas chock full of recruiting violations and his success at UCLA was later vacated, but it's not like SMU's entire athletic department nearly spontaneously combusted due to cheating the NCAA, so I'm sure they'll be fine. And besides that, I'm sure he's spent his 25 years away from the game viciously studying the NCAA rule book in order to not repeat his past mistakes.

You also can't argue Brown's commitment to the job; after all, he's 72 years old and has only held 13 jobs in 40 years, so based on that track record I'm sure he's planning to retire older and grayer at SMU.  He's clearly never used his current job as a springboard to something better and I'm sure the reports that he's been attempting to leverage the SMU offer into an NBA GM position are completely unfounded based on his history.  At an average of a whopping 3 years per job, it'd be unfair to say he has wandering eyes.

But perhaps the most interesting thing about SMU's hiring of Brown is the thing that is reportedly holding up consummation of the deal - Brown is working on hiring a current NCAA head coach as his coach in waiting as well as a crack team of assistants and recruiters.  Now, clearly this is the only way to handle the situation - Brown is old, Brown is likely giving SMU two years of his time TOPS, and Brown hasn't recruited in 25 years so he's going to need a fresh perspective/legs to do the heavy lifting.  In fact, it could be argued that Brown hasn't recruited much at all;  He was only an NCAA coach for 7 years and his time was spent at UCLA and Kansas, two historically great basketball programs that mostly recruit themselves.  Recruiting basketball at SMU is perhaps even harder than recruiting basketball at TCU.  Is a 72 year old man who has spent the last 25 years out of the NCAA going to be up for the task?  Clearly SMU doesn't think so.

The name reportedly being tossed around for his CIW is current Illinois State Head Coach Tim Jankovich.  Despite never really having his name called for a bigger job opening in the past, Jankovich is probably a pretty good hire;  He has had success at Illinois State, a school with zero basketball tradition, and he once was the head man at UNT, so he's at least familiar with the area.  Brown is also reportedly looking to hire Jerrance Howard, an ace recruiter left behind when Bruce Weber was fired at Illinois.  But here's my question:  If SMU is going to bring a coach in waiting on board, knowing that Brown isn't in it for the long haul, why pay Brown $2 million annually in order to hire a coach that wasn't on your radar in the first place and probably wouldn't be on your radar otherwise?  Or, on the flip side, knowing that he is going to eventually be your coach whether you like it or not, just hire him outright?  I suppose this is a chicken or the egg argument in that would SMU be able to attract these proposed coaches without Brown's name being attached to it, but lets' be realistic.  SMU isn't an attractive gig, but I guarantee you that for the amount of money SMU has been tossing around, a guy like Jankovich would listen for even half of what they're reportedly offering Brown.  If Jankovich is your end game, why not nip it in the bud and spend the money elsewhere?  It'd be a cutthroat, dick move, but come on, this is SMU we're talking about!  Integrity was never going to enter the equation.

But maybe this is the problem:  Didn't SMU kind of handcuff themselves by making it publicly known that they were willing to offer $2 million a year to coach their basketball team?  And, with that knowledge, wouldn't you have to be an absolute idiot to take the job for a cent less than that, no matter who you are? So, after striking out with the hot names like Tommy Amaker, Buzz Williams, etc, didn't SMU pretty much have to hire a name coach in order to appease the boosters who were ponying up that salary? It pretty much became Larry Brown or bust and, while he's going to make an immediate splash just because of his resume, his long term impact seems remarkably overstated.  As much as SMU thinks that a Coach puts butts in the seats and changes their fortunes, unless he's successful immediately, that won't be the case for Larry Brown.  June Jones, the most successful SMU coach in 30 years, still can't do it and, despite being comfortable financially, tried to bolt just last year for a mid-tier Pac 12 job.  If Brown has a rough first season and the fans don't come out, you can probably kiss him goodbye, and then where are you?

Until proven otherwise, Trent Johnson is an uninspiring hire.  He doesn't ignite the fan base, he's run off all of Christian's assistants putting TCU's recruiting class in jeopardy despite recruiting being a major knock on him and the current team hasn't exactly sounded thrilled with the hire.   But, as much as Larry Brown's coaching acumen has rightfully been lauded, check his track record - he's left over half the teams he has coached worse off than when he started.  His most recent gig with the Charlotte Bobcats ended after he started the season 9-19 with a team that was so incredibly tuned out even the incompetentest of incompetent GMs, Michael Jordan, recognized it.  So while success with Trent Johnson is by no means guaranteed, and probably a little unlikely, it's also possible that Larry Brown could leave SMU just as he found them as well, if not worse.  The man knows his basketball, that much is for certain, but as a 72 year old can he relate to an NCAA athlete who may not have been born the last time he was in the college ranks?

So with that said, would you rather be paying Trent Johnson $1.3 million a year knowing that he has built a program at Nevada, was the last coach to take Stanford to the NCAA Tournament and will be around five years from now? Or pay Larry Brown $2 million for a couple of years all for the right to hire Illinois State's head coach down the road?  You'll probably still say take a chance with Brown, but it's not as clear cut as you think, is it?

Opinions, give them to us.


Cowtown Food Junkie said...

Admittedly, my two favorite sports to follow are football and baseball. I enjoy basketball, but it just isn't as important to me. I would assume many TCU fans are the same way or just don't show up for basketball games because we have been one of the very worst men's basketball programs in the country for quite awhile. Either way, the only way we could have jumpstarted interest and support for the program was by hiring a coach who resonates with casual basketball fans/jaded TCU fans. Trent Johnson is not what was needed. He has had moderate success at Nevada and Stanford, but the LSU folks were overjoyed to see him go. On top of that, he is not a name that brings any kind of splash. Hell, the guy looked like he was going to fall asleep at his introductory press conference. I hope he is successful, but I doubt our situation changes much from the Christian regime. The Larry Brown situation isn't perfect, but he is a proven winner and teacher of the game, and his name has made a huge splash in the media. As much as it pains me to admit, SMU wanted to make a splash and were more committed to doing so than TCU was. Even my purple shaded goggles can't allow me to think we did as well as SMU on this one. Seems like a slam dunk to me. Legendary coach comes in, can energize the program am lay the groundwork, then let's the coach in waiting take it from there. It's unusual, but I'd much rather have their situation than ours.

Sir Wesley Willis said...

I agree with you, but I have to downplay anything SMU does. It's just in my being. That said, I don't think SMU will be any better off in the long run with Brown than TCU will be with Johnson.

Tyler said...

I think both hires should produce minimal results on the court, but at least SMUs hire will produce a little $$ and interest.

Lyle Lanley said...

In terms of initial PR, I'd say things are about even- SMU ended up with a splashier hire, but only after an extended search in which numerous candidates publicly turned them down.

J. Thaddeus Toad said...

I don't know how much $$$ larry brown will bring in- what does he really add- bring back tark, maybe you have a point. I don't really see Brown's motivation either- just trying to offset the estate tax? $2M is $2M, but hang it up already- this journeyman's journey's over.