By: Terrill J. Weil
Da Boot Sports
Today's Q&A Session is with Legendary, Hall of Famer, All-Time Great, former LSU Basketball Head Coach Dale Brown. Coach Brown coached at LSU for 25 years between 1972-1997.
He quickly put the struggling LSU basketball program on the map turning it into a winner.
He is the winningest coach in LSU basketball history.
Brown is the only SEC coach to have ever appeared in 15 straight national tournaments and only 11 coaches in NCAA history have made more consecutive NCAA appearances (10). Only the legendary Adolph Rupp of Kentucky has won more games in SEC history. Brown and Rupp are the only SEC coaches that had 17 consecutive non-losing seasons. Only four coaches in the SEC have won more conference championships, Adolph Rupp, Joe Hall, Tubby Smith, and Billy Donovan.
He's known for beating Kentucky 18 times, more than any coach in the nation.
115 of 160 of his players received their college degrees.
He is a member of the Minot State University Athletics Hall of Fame, North Dakota Sports Hall of Fame, National College Basketball Hall of Fame, Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame, and the Basketball Coaches Hall of Fame. In 2004, he was inducted as an SEC Living Legend.
In 1999, Sports Illustrated selected him as one of the top 50 athletes of the 20th century from North Dakota.
The Bleacher Report selected him as one of the 50 greatest basketball coaches in college basketball history.
During Brown's era, LSU set the record for the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th largest paid attendance for a regular season game in college basketball history: Jan. 20th, 1990 Superdome - 68,112 - LSU 87 Notre Dame 64
Jan. 28th 1989 Superdome - 66,144 - LSU 82 Georgetown 80
Jan. 3rd, 1992 Superdome - 61,304 - LSU 84 Texas 83
Nicknamed :"The Master Motivator" for constantly having his teams play at a high level and overachieve.
Coach Brown finished his career at LSU with a record of 448-301 (.598)... Two Final Four appearances (1981, 1986)... Four regular season SEC championships (1975, 1981, 1985, 1991).... One SEC tournament championship (1980)... He is a four time SEC Coach of the Year (1973. 1979, 1981, 1989).... Was chosen as the National Coach of the Year (1981)...
Enjoy the Q & A Below...........
Q - So Coach Brown, I see you were born in Minot, North Dakota. Did you live and grow up there most of your young life?
Coach Brown - Yes.. It's a little town and we have a slogan there, "Why Not Minot?" .... I was very very fortunate. I had a wonderful mother. My biological father abandoned my mother and I two days before I was born. disappeared from the earth. gave us no financial support or any other kind of support.
My beloved mother came off a farm. If you're familiar with history, 1935 was the middle of the great depression, that lasted from 1929 to 1939. She only had a 8th grade education and the only place that we could find to live in that we had money to pay for was a one room apartment above a bar and hardware store. No bathroom, no shower, no bathtub. I never slept in a bed for 21 years. My mother had a little bed that pulled out from the wall and I had a sofa to sleep on. I could reach out and touch her head while we slept.
She became a maid for 50 cents an hour and also became a babysitter. Never ever complained or never talked bad about the man that left her. Then finally we got to move a few doors down and we had a bathroom and we had a toilet. I was like, "Oh Man!" ... But I still didn't have a bed.
But it isn't the physical surroundings, it's the spiritual, in the warmth you get from a loved one, if there is such a thing as a saint, my mother was a saint. She was Sheroe.
Q - I've read how great of an athlete you were. At what age did you start playing organized sports?
Coach Brown - I started organized sports in the 5th grade. I had three older sisters. One died at birth. The other two graduated from high school but never went to college. So I knew if I was going to get an education, there was only one way I was going to be able to do it and that was through an athletic scholarship. Although I started working when I was ten years old.
This may sound insane, because we didn't have a father and were poverty stricken, but I wouldn't change my bringing up. I learned tenacity. I learned honesty from my mother.
What I learned from my mother, was she never spoke. You would see the lessons. My mother was a very spiritual woman, but I learned my lessons from her by watching her. She never preached to me.
Edgar Guest, who is my favorite poet, described her perfectly. He said, "I'd rather see a lesson then hear one any day.
I'd rather you walk with me, then merely show the way. The eyes are a better teacher and are more willing then the ear. The council you are giving may be very fine and true, but I'd rather get my examples by observing what you do." ..... and I saw that from my mother.
She never criticized the man that had left her. She never dated, she never smoked, she never consumed Alcohol, she never swore. She was a wonderful human being.
Q - I see that when you reached high school you attended St. Leo's High School and played football, basketball, and ran track, correct?
Coach Brown - Correct, and the same in college. I went to a little teacher's college in Minot, North Dakota called Minot State Teacher's College, a small NAIA school of 500.
Some of my friends were able to go to big time Universities, and I use to feel that maybe I got cheated by going to a little school, but I didn't. I had great teachers and great people that not only taught, but cared about you. So it isn't the size or the name of the university. It could be Stanford, or it could be Grambling, or Minot State. It's the people who are teaching, and I had some great teachers.
Q - So back in high school when you were a top athlete, I'm guessing recruiting must have been much different back then? Did you have anyone from larger schools trying to recruit you as an athlete?
Coach Brown - I had a scholarship offer to the University of North Dakota. I made a visit to University of North Dakota. I was so intimidated by it. I didn't have a suit. I had holes in the bottom of my shoes. I had to take popcorn boxes and cut them out and put them in my shoes so my socks wouldn't get wet. Well, they put me in a fraternity and these guys had cars and suits. I said, "Boy, I can't wait to get out of here and get back to little ole Minot State Teacher's College." and that turned out to be pretty lucky, because now 62 years later, the young lady that I met there, is still married to me. So I was lucky.
Q - Wow, So that's how you met Mrs. Vonnie? Would you like to tell us that story?
Coach Brown - I never really didn't do any dating. Didn't have a car. Didn't have any money. I was embarrassed still that we were on welfare and our clothes smelled like mothballs often and we lived in that little apartment above a bar and hardware store. So I really spent most of my time athletically.
One day I was walking up the steps of the school in the main building and I saw this little Norwegian looking blonde signing something at a table. So when she walked away I looked and the paper it said, 'Lutheran Students Association'. Well I happened to be Catholic, so I went and pretended to be signing up for it, but at the same time I was putting her telephone number in my brain. So I finally got enough guts to call her and of course she had no concept of who I was. She came from a little tiny town on the Montana/Canadian border called Columbus. We started to date. We didn't have any money to go to the show or any money to do anything, we just spent time together and both of us fell in love with each other. Got married, had one child our daughter Robyn. And 62 years later, she's still stuck with this moron. She is a remarkable woman. I couldn't be married to myself for 62 years...
Q - So I see that at Minot State you were a star athlete, earning 12 varsity letters in football, basketball, and track. You were the only athlete to accomplish this in these three sports, and you scored 1,140 points in three years of varsity basketball. You must have been something on the basketball court?
Coach Brown - Well, it's funny. It was a small school. Only 500 students when I went there. But we qualified for the National NAIA Championships and went to Kansas City to play for the National Championship.
Whether or not that I could have played Division I, everyone has delusions of grandeur, I don't know that. I had the spirit to do it. But I liked where I was at. I never had a desire to go any other place to play, and if I had gone to another place to play, I would have missed the greatest opportunity of my life, marrying my wife and having my beautiful daughter, Robyn. So everything works out.
When friends of mine would go to Notre Dame or Southern Cal or Stanford, I would think, "Wow, I bet I'm getting an inferior education." But years later I found out I didn't. That little teacher's college had teachers in it. A lot of those others didn't have teachers, they had performers. These people at my college were warm and loving, so I would not in any way ever regret growing up in poverty, Growing up in a one room apartment. I would not change anything.
Q - When you finished college did you have an opportunity to play basketball or any sport professionally?
Coach Brown - No, there was not. My coaching career came about, and I think about how times have changed now with salaries. I started out as a high school coach. I got $4,250.. ... I was the head basketball coach, the head wrestling coach, the head track coach, taught five subjects, and was the high school principal, and I thought, "Man, is this living high off the hog." .... So when I think of anything in my life, it does prove that hard work does pay off eventually. You don't have to have connections. You don't have to be dishonest. If you just work at something and you persevere, and believe in it, and you have faith that God is going to lead you into something, good things happen. It's very easy to be negative. For example, the media when I was growing up use to accentuate the positive and diminish the negative. Now, a large portion of the media does just the reverse. They accentuate the negative and diminish the positive.
Q - When you finished college, what made you decide that coaching basketball was for you and your future profession?
Coach Brown - Okay, you want the truth don't you? ... I knew I was going to graduate. School was never hard for me. I never took a book home, I just go to class and listen. I knew that I was never going to flunk, but I didn't really dig in like I should have.
What stimulated me, I always had delusions of grandeur baby. I really had. The FBI when I grew up is not the FBI now. That was the cleanest, nicest, wonderful thing. I was convinced that someday I could take over for J. Edgar Hoover and become a FBI guy. So now, I will really reshow you my stupidity. That won't surprise some people. I was coming into my final year and I had to declare what I was going to major in. I had taken a whole variety of subjects. Things that I was interested in.
The Exit Counselor, prior to my senior season in college, asked me what I wanted to do? So I told her, "One day I want to be head of the FBI." ... She looked at me and said, "Dale Brown, do you know where you're at? You're at a teacher's college. To be in the FBI you need to have a law degree or a degree in accounting. All yours is in education. You should be a teacher or a coach." ... I said, "Okay, that'll be fine." ... So, I wasn't born to be a coach, although I loved it for 44 years. I wouldn't do anything else.
Q - I see when all this took place with your coaching career, it all happened in California. Why did you end up leaving North Dakota to relocate to California?
Coach Brown - It was very simple. My wife and I both were teachers. We just could not make a living. We had a two year old daughter. Every month it was the same thing, which bill were we going to dodge. It's not like we were trying to cheat anybody, we just didn't have money. So we made a decision, and surprisingly my wife said, "Lets move to California." .. I'd never been to California. So literally with no money and a two year old daughter, We made a bed for her in the back seat of our car, and then took off for California. No connections. We started in southern California, stopped in school districts and talked to the superintendents asking if they had any openings. So our adventures to California, were by my wife's suggestions.
I was a junior high high school coach the first year we were there. It was the only job that I could get because we got
out there late. The second year I was a high school coach in Palm Springs.
I liked school teaching, but the thing that I didn't like about it is that you got stuck teaching courses that you knew nothing about. The superintendent came up to me just before school and told me that I had to teach Chemistry. I said, "I don't even know how to light a Bunsen Burner, how am I going to teach it?"
So I started writing letters to college coaches, telling them that I would like to come as a graduate assistant, and that I would even work for free for a year just so you can test me out. Low and behold, probably about 100 people I wrote, I only got answered by two people. But one of them was the head coach at Utah State. Within the year, he hired me to be his assistant. I spent five years at Utah State as an assistant and we were one game away from playing in the national championship. UCLA beat us in the regional championship. So just a break and a good suggestion by my wife.
Q - I see that at one point of your life you were in the military?
Coach Brown - Yes... When I was right at the age to be drafted, the principal at this high school I was teaching at told
me, "You should join the National Guard. You'll go six month of basic training and then you can come back here and teach. You won't have to leave your family, if you get drafted in the Army." ... So I did that, Spent the six months at basic training in California, then got out. Low and behold, the Berlin Crisis breaks out. Now I get drafted back into the Army, and we are going to go knock down the Berlin Wall. So I had to leave home again and spent one year in supposedly training to go to Germany and intimidate the communist that we weren't leaving there. It was a joke. We didn't do anything. We just wasted our time. If memory serves me right I think we only got $80 a month to send to our family.
Q - So while you were an assistant at Washington State, How did you find out about the LSU job opening?
Coach Brown - What happened, being an assistant at Washington State, they just fired their head coach. The next day they offered me the job. Which would have been my first college head coaching job. So I told them to let me think it over with my wife and see what she wants to do, thinking that I might take it.
I got home that night to our apartment and I got a call from Carl Maddox, Athletic Director at LSU. I'd never been to the South. So my wife called me to the phone and he said they were looking for a new head coach at LSU. I practically passed out, I had never been there, of course I knew about their great football and I knew about Bob Pettit and Pete Maravich, who was the greatest offensive player in the history of the game. But I knew very little about LSU basketball.
I came down for an interview and went back to Washington State, and now the AD at Washington State is trying to get me to take the job there. For some reason I was hesitant. The next day I got a call from Carl Maddox wanting me and my wife to come back down and meet the Board of Supervisors. Came down and the next afternoon, I ended up getting the head job here and 25 years later and now 24 years retired, we've been in Baton Rouge for 49 years.
The reason was Carl Maddox. He was a wonderful man, a tremendous leader, and you talk about no horseplay. He was straight down the line. He had been a high school coach. He knew how hard it was to move up to be a college head coach.
In Twenty Five years, I really enjoyed what I did, but I saw the sport changing. There were too many involvements that were no longer the coach, the teachers, or the parents that you dealt with. There were parasites. So called uncles some of them, and agents, and what-have-you. It just wasn't right. So it was time to give it up after 44 years of coaching.
I'm eternally grateful to LSU, Baton Rouge, and Louisiana for giving me this opportunity.
Q - I remember growing up only seeing one basketball head coach, you, battle the NCAA over their ridiculous rules and decision making. I think it was incredible how you would always stand up for what was right. Tell us a little about some of those battles?
Coach Brown - I believe that you would have done the same thing that I did and here's why... The NCAA. That supposedly stands for "National Collegiate Athletic Association." ... That's a joke! The NCAA stands for "Not Caring About Athletes!".... The only thing they were good at was legislating against human dignity and practicing monumental hypocrisy.
I'll tell you why I stood up to the NCAA. I wasn't gallant or anything else. I was just doing what was right. Let me give you two paramount examples and you tell me what you think.
We had a young man on our team from St. Louis, Mark Alcorn. We were in the Alaskan Shootout and I was taking bed check and he had almost jaundice skin and he was sweating. I said, "Mark, What's wrong with you?" .... He said he had this pain in his side. I asked him how long has he had it. He said that he had it for a couple of days. I told him that he would be on a plane tomorrow. He said, "I want to play." ... I said, "Oh no you're not." .... So we got him home and he was loaded with testicular cancer. He had to drop out of school and go back to St. Louis. He was a fine little player, a very nice young man.
Well, his mother called me and told me that he was near death. She said, "His dad and me decided we were going to ask him, ... Mark, if you had a last wish, what would it be?" ... He said, "Mom, I want to see my three best friends on the team."
His mom added, "I was embarrassed to call you. They are going to put on a fundraiser for us. We have put our home up for a second mortgage already, we just don't have money to get his three friends up here. Could you get them up here for this fundraiser?" ... I said absolutely! She also asked me if I would speak at the fundraiser? "Absolutely!"
So I hung up and I thought, "You know what? I've fought this NCAA. They would love to have me be proven a loud mouth Elmer Gantry." I called the NCAA office and I explained the situation, that the Governor has offered us to use his plane, free of charge. I asked them if I could fly them up there? That's not breaking a rule, is it? .... They said, "Yes it is".. By that time their book was about 500 pages. And he said, "That's called entertainment off campus." ... I told them, "Did you not hear me, this is one of our players who is dying and just wants to see his three best friends" ... "You can't do it!" he told me. I said, "Well they'll be there!"... He answered back with, "Are you turning yourself in?" .... I told him, "You figure it out!" and I hung up.
So I thought, What could I do not to embarrass the University? I didn't want to do that and get LSU in any trouble. But I'm going to get them there.
One night late in my office I found a red eye flight to fly them up there. I found them a motel near the airport. That was in 1981, to show you how cheap it was, the entire trip only cost $300 for each player. I didn't want the kids to see me calling each of them into the office. So that night I pulled my blinds down. After practice I told one to come see me at 7, one to come see me at 7:45, and the other to come see me at 8. In an envelope, I gave each kid, one at a time $300 out of my pocket. Instructions on how to get to their airplane flight and the motel.
So we got up there and it was my turn to speak. I got up and I thought, this is dangerous what I'm about to do. I said, "Would Andy Campbell stand up please. Joe Costello would you stand up. J. Brian Bergeron would you stand up." Mark was sitting on the stage and I said, "Mark, these are your three best friends. They're here today to tell you that they love you." Then I said, "And I'm here to tell you folks that the NCAA would not let me do this. I broke a rule and I paid their way to come up here." I didn't care if I got fired. Well it was so embarrassing to the NCAA, apparently they didn't dare do anything. .....
One last story so you can see why I fought the NCAA. I recruited one of the greatest potential prospects I've ever coached. 6'-11" from Bahia Blanca, Argentina. Hernan Montenegro. He came here with a two year old daughter and his wife. About four games into the season I get a call from a doctor's office. The doctor said, "Coach, we have a major problem. Hernan Montenegro and his wife are here and she's pregnant and the baby is breeched. I've got to get that baby out or the baby is going to die, or very well the wife could die." He said, "But they don't have any insurance at all." He said, "What should I do?" .... I told him, "Doc, just go ahead and get it done. What does it cost?" ... He said that he could give me a rough figure. 1985 I believe this was. He said it would cost something like $7,500. ... I told him to just do it, That I would handle it.
Now, again I call the NCAA and told them the situation. I said, "May I co-sign a loan to help them? He'll play professional ball. He's 6'-11" and can play every position on the court." .... "No you can't do that!" .... I asked, "Why can't I do that? A baby could die, and the mother could die." ... "That's NCAA rule, you can't do that. That's extra benefits." they said.
I knew an agent who represents people like Wynton Marsalis, and numerous musical entertainers. He didn't represent athletes. We're friends. I asked him, "Would you do me a favor? Would you come down and sign him and be his agent and then pay the money?" He said that he would do it. So he flew down, gave the family $10,000 for the operation, Thankfully the baby and mother lived. It would have been a NCAA violation had I done it, but Hernan lost his eligibility only after four games at LSU and still got drafted in the NBA by Philadelphia.
The NCAA is a dysfunctional organization, but their getting better, I'll give them credit for that. They've come millions of miles. But they have light years to go and light travels at 186,000 miles per second. They still have a long way to go. Although they have improved and I applaud them for that.
Oh, I have one more thing. The LSU Chancellor called me in. A very nice man, and said, "Coach Brown, I'm real worried. Your rhetoric against the NCAA is so tough. They may come in and try to take our football program apart and stuff, so I want to ask you. Would you consider lowering your rhetoric?" .... All I said to him was, "Mr. Chancellor thank you for your interest in the program. I've tried to do nothing to ever hurt LSU." ...
A week later I get a call from Sports Illustrated and they want to do a cover story. The writer came down, spent a couple of days and as he was leaving, he says, "Coach Brown, we've talked endlessly about this for two days. Just in a nutshell, how would you describe the NCAA?" ... I said, "They're gestapo bastards." Now that was in Sports Illustrated and by the way, I never got another call from the Chancellor to tell me to lower my rhetoric.
The truth is the truth. 2+2 is 4... It's not five. It can't be six. It won't be three. It's the truth. I wasn't going to do anything
special. However had they found out, .... I'm still sort of shocked to be honest with you. I exposed myself in St. Louis. Certainly I broke the rule and they didn't come after me. I guess it was too controversial. But if they would have had a chance, they would have done it, and they tried to do it with a fake payment to Lester Earl. So I guess you can say that I don't respect the NCAA. Is that a pretty good definition of it?
Everybody is making money off kids and some of them come to us with battered tennis shoes and no proper clothes. They have nothing. Then the NCAA brainwashes them by telling them that they have a scholarship, wanting to know why are complaining? The NCAA is making billions of dollars and Coaches are making millions. It's insane. It's not fair.
For five years beginning in September of 1983, I initiated a letter writing campaign, totaling five letters, all targeting the NCAA's 1,200 college presidents, chancellors, athletic directors, faculty representatives, head football coaches, head basketball coaches, and conference commissioners of Division I schools and also to the staff of the NCAA suggesting massive reform in the NCAA.
I had 43 recommendations that should be changed. Terrible rules! Terrible! This isn't Russia, It's the United States. At the time I was known as a Maverick. 30 of the 43 have now been changed.
My dear friend Dr. Harry Edwards, who is one of the greatest civil rights icons of all-time and a brilliant man. He told me one time and it stuck with me. He said, "Silence has always been evil's greatest ally." ... and that's true. People are scared to speak up against the NCAA. They don't want to loose their big time money. But if they did? What if they get investigated? .... Whenever good and evil compromise, evil always comes out the winner.
Q - So you got the LSU job in 1972. I know the year before you arrive, Collis Temple Sr. became the first African American to play basketball for LSU. Would you tell us about how yourself, the school, and teammates handled the beginning of integration?
Coach Brown - I deeply admire the selection committee, which consisted of Ned Clark (a former basketball player), Two men that are dead now. One was a professor at LSU, Bob May, an oil man named Warren 'Rusty' Brown, and Carl Maddox the AD. They were really classy and in the final interview, before they were going to make the decision, one of them asked me, "We've had 14 of 18 losing seasons over the last 18 years. Why should we hire you? Why are you any different?"
My answer was, "Well, I'm not sure you should hire me. The reason why I'm not sure you should hire me, no one has asked me what my philosophy is. So let me tell you what it is, then that will be a decision you all will have to make.
Number one, I'll do everything in my power to bring in good young men. I'll do everything in my power to build this
program into a powerhouse." I said, "Also, if you hire me, you may have an all black team. You may have an all white team. You may have an all foreign team. Or you may have a combination of all three. Because I'm going to recruit human beings first and basketball players second."
My wife told me to call her right after the interview. There weren't cell phones at that time and I was on my way up to a State tournament up in Alexandria, Louisiana and on the way up there I thought, "Oh I forgot to call my wife." ...
So I saw a little town coming up called Bunkie, Louisiana. I go into a drug store and ask if I could use their phone. There was a phone booth, it cost me a nickel I remember. I called my wife and I told her what happened. I can remember what she said. "Dale, Dale, Dale, ....You got no chance at getting that job. A kamikaze pilot in the Japanese air force would have a better chance."
Well, to show you the kind of men they were, a week later, they asked my wife and I to come back down and gave us the job. I could not of had a finer Athletic Director then Carl Maddox. You talk about honorable, brilliant, fair. And the City of Baton Rouge, even though things weren't as smooth as it could be, you could see them come around once the program did became integrated and when we did bring in players. It wasn't easy. It took time. It took time to get a black athlete to visit because numerous ones told me, Elvin Hayes was one of them. He wanted to come to LSU. He wrote them a letter, they didn't even contact him.
Some fathers of the players we were recruiting, told me he wouldn't send his kid to LSU, because he wanted to go there and they wouldn't recruit him. However, that broke down and the city absorbed them. Things changed a lot, even though there was some mean things that forged on in the background, Baton Rouge, Louisiana is basically a good place.
Albert Einstein, who they say is probably the most intellectual man who ever lived, summed up life perfectly. He said, "It isn't the evil people that bother him. It's all the good people that don't do anything about the evil people."
So there's really some good souls. They hired our players for summer job and during the Holidays. Just nice people. So things slowly changed.
Collis Temple. You talk about who should have a statue? He should have a statue. All the things he had to go through early, hate mail, death threats. He was an honor student. An honorable, good man. Came from a great home. There was a lot of sacrifice made. He was the one who had the courage, intellect, and energy to become a successful business man and is now a member of the LSU Board of Supervisors.
Q - After you got the job at LSU, you started to go from town to town trying to introduce the basketball program. Hanging basketball nets outside of any homes that had a goal. Can you explain to us how you came up with that idea?
Coach Brown - Very good question. I'll tell you how that happened. After the most magnificent offensive player in the history of the game, Pete Maravich left here, everything went south. No one wanted to come to the games. They hired a no name coach from North Dakota, why would they want to come?
So I thought, "I'm going to have to promote this team somehow." I had an idea, I was reading a magazine. I can't remember which one it was, but there was a sales ad in it for a company in Korea that was making purple and gold nets. We had a very small budget so as a result I paid for the nets.
My assistant, Homer Drew's wife, Janet Drew, wrote a poem for us to include. We called it, the Tiger Safari. It read, "This is a net from the purple and gold, for a sport that will never grow old. LSU wants you to know, they want you to join the Tiger Safari." .... We put that in the bags with our schedule, our business card, and the net.
We met on the weekends, the two assistants of mine. We had maps and we would go to different parts of the State. Where ever we saw a outdoor basketball goal, we would go to the door, knock, tell them who we were and give them the little plastic bag. They might have thought we were crazy. But Sports Illustrated picked it up and ran a nice story on LSU basketball.
Q - Some of your recruiting trips are considered to be legendary. Any recruiting stories you would like to share?
Coach Brown - I would pick two. ... The State Department during the Berlin Wall Crisis was trying to intimidate the
communist. They sent over 90,000 troops and amassed them on the East German border to intimidate them. "We're not leaving here! We're going to send over some troops!"
Well the State Department asked me if I was start in Southern Germany and work my way up to Northern Germany speaking to the troops. .... "Absolutely I would.".... I got to the last spot up in the mountains to a place called Wildflecken. I finished my lecture and was packing my bag enthusiastic because I'll be home before too many more hours.
I get a tap on my back and this young guy, maybe 6'-9", 250lbs, stuttering, "Coach, Coach, Coach Brown." he said, "I'll be trying out for the team here. I can't dunk a ball. and when I run up and down the court about three or four times my lower extremities tire. Can you show me some exercises?"
I said sure and asked him if he had weights here? He said, "No we don't." ... I said I'll show you some non-resistance exercises so you don't need weights. I said, "How long have you been in the service soldier?" ... He smiled and cupped his hand over his mouth and he said, "Coach I'm not in the service. I'm only 13 years old." ... I asked, "How tall are you?" ... "I'm 6'-9"" ... I said, "What size shoe do you wear?" .... He said "Size 18." .... I asked him, "What are you doing here?" .... He said, "My dad is a career military man." .... I said, "I want to meet him." .... He replied, "He's in the sauna."
So we headed to the sauna and just as I was opening it, he burst out, big towel around his neck, sweating profusely ... "That's my dad." What his dad did really impressed me. I handed him my business card and I said, "Sergeant, if your son ever develops into a player," and I'm just jabbering a lot. He's looking at my card kind of with almost disdian looking over the top of it. Then he puts his hand out and he said, "I'm not trying to be rude coach, I want to see my son get educated. If your interested in that, and he develops, we may be interested."
So I got back to Baton Rouge, and sent away a training program immediately. Six weeks later I got a letter from Germany. "Dear Coach Brown, I did everything you told me to do and my high school coach cut me off the team. He told me that I'm too slow, that I was too clumsy, I have too big of feet and that I'll never be a basketball player. He told me that I should be a soccer goalie. Coach Brown, what should I do?"
I sat behind my desk and I thought, what kind of a profound statement am I going to make to a 13 year old child that just had his heart broken. Heck, I've been doing the same thing about my life. I wrote him a letter handwritten. almost word for word.
"Dear Shaquille, I'm so sorry what happened to you. But every time in my life, when I heard someone say, "He doesn't have a dad. They're on welfare. His mother isn't educated, He'll never make it." ... I said, "I tried the following and it worked for me, and I bet if you try it, it will work for you. It's very simple. If you always try to do your very best, and only you will know that, and you never give up under any conditions. Sooner or later, God will take care of everything else."
Well I'm not naive enough to think that little sermon that I wrote in that one page letter, but years later he told me that's why he didn't quit. He told me his mother sent him to their outdoor mailbox in the snow in the mountains. While he was walking out to it, plowing through the snow, after being cut from the team, he had made up his mind that he was just going to go into the Army. He said he opened up the mailbox and on the way back home he read that letter and that made him not quit. Like Paul Harvey would say, "And that's the rest of the story."
I have one more to share.. Maybe the best big man I've ever seen play. He never played in college. He was on the Russian Olympic Team. His name was Arvydas Sabonis. This 7'-1" player was destined for greatness. I said, "Man how can I recruit him?"
So I did some research and I found out there was an American by the name of Armand Hammer. He was the most popular American with the Russian Government, now how am I going to get in touch with Armand Hammer?
Well I found out who his best friends were. I knew two of the friends, so I called them and asked them if they could talk to him to get me into Russia to meet this kid. Well low and behold they did it. Well, he was very close to coming here. Actually he made a commitment on the telephone that he wanted to come through an interpreter. He didn't speak English at the time. But when they got back from the World Games in Spain, they got the news and he disappeared. Of course he never made it here. He did make it to the Portland Trailblazers. His son played at Gonzaga.
Q - Can you tell us a little about the 1981 Final Four Team?
Coach Brown - We won 26 straight games. We were the first team in history to win 17 SEC games. We had one game left at Kentucky, lost in the last second by a point. Won the League easily going away. We were ranked 1 & 2 in the nation most of the year.
Rudy Macklin broke his finger in the Regional game in the Super Dome. He was our star, our best shooter, best rebounder, best scorer. The captain of the team. When we got to the NCAA tournament in that Final Four, he just wasn't himself. Indiana could not of beaten us in my opinion if he had not been injured.
Q - Can you tell us a little about everything the 1986 Final Four Team had to go through during that season?
Coach Brown - Do you have any Kleenex? That team, we lost three centers. 7'-1" Zoran Jovanovich got in a car accident, had knee surgery. He was done. 7'-1" Tito Hartford, he broke a rule, I suspended him. He was done. Then he left town and transferred. Next was one of the most unfair things to happen while I was at LSU. Now we have Nikita Wilson, 6'-8". We were 14-0. The rules say at LSU that if your an athlete and you're on a scheduled road trip and you miss a test, you can take the test when you get back within a week. Well we were on the road, he missed a test, he went to take it. A teacher I believe who was from Malaysia, I'm not sure, would not let him take the test. He told Nikita, "No, no, no, no, you can not take the test." ... and he didn't speak really good English. But it went through and the University didn't back it. It was a rule created by the University. They declared him ineligible. So now we've lost three centers. We've got no centers. I had to use 6'-6" Rickey Blanton, who had never played the position. Thank God for that young man.
Then, we got the chickenpox. I mean everything that could go wrong, went wrong. So now instead of being 14-0 like we were, our record was kind of mediocre. We were an 11th seed. Never in the history of college basketball has an 11 seed gone to a NCAA Final Four. We did and we were a half away from winning it. We lead Louisville at halftime in Dallas., this Cinderella team was just burned out.
Q - With all the players that you lost off of the 1986 Final Four team, your team in 1987 was just seconds away from a second straight trip to the Final Four. Tell us a little about that?
Coach Brown - They were six seconds away from the Final Four. We had the last shot which would have won the game and we didn't. Indiana won and moved onto New Orleans where they won the national championship.
But you know what, that's all hindsight, they say, bla bla bla bla... You've got to live with all those things. I was blessed with a lot of last second victories too. In the Super Dome, the largest crowd in college basketball, Ricky Blanton putting in that last second shot. I was blessed in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center when Ricky Blanton hit the three from the corner with four seconds left to beat UNLV 88-87.
It just balances off, that's life. There's no sense in moping, whining, or complaining. Everybody is going to have adversity. But how you handle that adversity is what happens. The choice you make makes you. Some of the most miraculous things I've ever seen have come from people with no arms or legs.
Q - What was the Freak Defense?
Coach Brown - I'm glad you don't know what it is because most people don't. It all started when I was coaching a Catholic high school in Minot, North Dakota called Bishop Ryan.
We went to Williston, North Dakota to play this team and they just knocked us out of the arena. We couldn't do anything, their center just dominated us. That summer I thought, "We got to play that kid again." .. By the way that kid's name was Phil Jackson. The Phil Jackson.
So I was like, How in the world, how is it possible to ever beat him? I was at a Barnes & Noble and I picked up a book by Sun Tzu, a Chinese General, a warrior. 2,500 years ago he wrote a book about the Art of War. What attracted me to that, I don't know. But I picked that book up and I started reading it, and I thought, "Holy Mackerel! Maybe I can change some things in basketball the way he did." ... For example he said, "When you face a superior opponent, you must confuse him and you will neutralize his excellence." and he also said, "All warfare is based upon deception." .... So the more I kept reading this book, I'd said, hey.... I remember another page, he said, "It's often possible by adopting all kinds of measures of deception to drive a superior enemy into the plight of making numerous mistakes."
I said, "What am I going to do about this?" ... I went to the school. We didn't have copy machines at that time. We had ditto machines. With a ditto machine you only get one copy at a time. So I had hundreds of courts made up. I thought, what could I do? I've got to have a defense that confuses people.
This is just it in a nut shell. When the ball is passed into the right hand side of the court, you play a man-to-man. .... When it's passed to the middle of the court, you play a 1, 3, 1-trap zone, .... When it's passed into the left side of the court, you play a 2-3 matchup zone. That's pretty simple.
Now, when your opponent calls time out because they think they have it figured out. Now you do what we call, "Flip-Flop." You just change the rules around. When the ball goes to the right hand side, you don't play man-to-man, you play the 1,3,1-trap zone, .... When it goes to the middle, you play 2-3 , .... When it goes to the left, you play man-to-man. ....
I'm not going to try to confuse you because we confused many opponents. Now, when I cross my arms, that means now that I'm going to show them a number. If I hold up a one, that means we are going to play a Box-in-one defense. ... If I hold up two, that means were playing a triangle & two. .... It really really confuses people.
John Chaney, my dear friend at Temple. I think they were 32-1, ranked second in the nation. We played them in Chicago in the Regionals. One of the media asked him, "What do you think about Dale Brown's Freak Defense?" .... He said, "What do I think about Dale Brown's Freak Defense? Man, the only freaks I see are in alleys in Philadelphia." .... Most people would laugh it off.
We gave Kentucky the worse defeat in the history of their school, at Kentucky, in Rupp Arena by 34 points. The Freak Defense was involved. It sounds more complicated then it really is.
For example, we're playing a team, and I don't want to embarrass the team. They ended up going to the
national championship. Well they're ahead of us by a few points and their coach calls timeout. So they are walking by our bench and their center and guard get into a problem. "Damn it, their playing man-to-man!" ... "No they're not playing man-to-man, they're playing zone!" .... I said to my guys, "Listen, We got these guys right where we want them. Now we're going to go the other way." .... We changed the whole thing by listening to them talk. It sounds much more complicated then it is.
Q - Can you tell me who gave the Assembly Center the nickname, "The Deaf Dome" and who came up with the idea of hanging the Deaf Dome crowd noise meter from the ceiling?
Coach Brown - I starting calling the PMAC Deaf Dome, and then I came up with the idea for a noise meter to help create extra excitement at the games.
Q - Can you tell us a little about the recruitment of Chris Jackson (Mahmoud Abdual-Rauf)?
Coach Brown - Everyone in the Country wanted him. He came from a poverty stricken family, worse then mine. A nice, beautiful young man. I love Chris Jackson, Mahmoud.
The credit for recruiting Chris Jackson has to go to one of my assistants, Craig Carse. Craig had a wonderful relationship with him. Gave him dignity. Would drive down to see him. Would even talk about home work with him and anything besides basketball. He felt very comfortable with us. One of the greatest human beings I've ever been around in my life and one of the greatest player.
Q - Your recruiting class with Chris Jackson, Stanley Roberts, and Shaquille O'Neal has to be one of the most talented teams you have ever assembled?
Coach Brown - That team your speaking of, they only played one year together. Which was difficult. Mahmoud went pro, Stanley went to play professionally in Spain, which only left Shaquille.
I did not do as good of a job as I could have done. It was the most talent I ever had. I thought I did better with lesser talent. So I blame myself. I probably should have not used a double low post for two reasons. 1 - It would have kept one of the big guys out of foul trouble, and #2 - It plugged up the lane a little too much for Chris. I think it was a combination of things. They were young. They didn't have leadership skills at that time. It was two freshmen and a sophomore.
Q - Towards the end of you career between 1993-1997, that must have been a difficult and frustrating time?
Coach Brown - It was a combination of things that made it difficult. The hardship draft was encouraging players to leave early. Ineligibilities... Injuries.... Suspensions.... But in the end, you can't wimp and you can't whine about it. You take winning for granted. Losing is a monumental thing. It's not fun to loose, particularly after having as much success that we had.
Q - During your final season in 1997 all of the other SEC schools showed you their appreciation of your career, honoring you before games. That must have been pretty special?
Coach Brown - That was really nice and very touching.
Q - I know you keep in touch with your former players. Do you ever get together with them in person for reunions from time to time?
Coach Brown - I try to talk to all my players. All 160 of them. I know where they are all located and their families. But the get togethers are a little more difficult because people are getting older, going their ways.
The Universities I think should take more action to do that. Let them bring players back. Because some people probably have a 9-5 job making minimum wages. They can't get in a airplane and come from Australia or where ever else they are. It's much harder to get everyone together.
I'd like to close on this. This is not being modest. This is not being humble. Never ever, not one second of my coaching career did I ever dream of being the SEC Coach of the Year. I never dreamed about being a National Coach of the Year. I never dreamed about being in the College Basketball Hall of Fame. They were never goals of mine. All I wanted to do, .... I know what it did to me, it was a father substitute for me. It gave me an education. It gave me discipline. It taught me team work. I just wanted to help kids along the way.
All the stuff that's glitter, that's meaningless. If my team was #1 in the nation or last in the nation, my emotions for them are no different then the other team. As long as they did their best. The very few players. Very few, that I ever had to suspend, I stay in touch with them. So anyone who may see this who is interested in coaching, I think it's fairly simple, and I've coached for 44 years. Players really do not care how much you know, until they know how much you care. When you care, they figure that out. You can't fake kids out for very long. There can be some guys you can fake out during recruiting, and you're this nice guy and do this.
But I've been blessed by 160 young men who believed in each other, LSU, Louisiana, and our system. I had some good assistants. Three of my assistants are now in the College Basketball Hall of Fame, Tex Winter and Homer Drew, while Bob Starkey is in the Women's Assistant College Basketball Hall of Fame.