The Larry Brown effect: How one coach changed SMU athletics for the better

A white-haired, bespectacled man in a black and red SMU tracksuit walks up and down the Dallas Hall lawn. His steps are followed by whispers from SMU students lounging on the grass or headed to class. Several students wave hello with big smiles on their faces and the man, with an even bigger smile, waves back.

“Having a coach that can walk around campus and say hello to every student shows just how approachable he is. SMU is a close community where he isn’t just a figurehead but very much a part of our school,” Skylar Jayes, an SMU sophomore and Mob member said.

Everyone knows Larry Brown – the man that resurrected SMU basketball.

Larry Brown’s revival of the SMU men’s basketball team back into the spotlight of college sports has created a whole new energy at SMU. Students now line up for tickets and are incentivized to join The Mob, SMU’s athletic supports squad, so that they can get game tickets before anyone else.

“The whole basketball program was an afterthought before Larry Brown. Now, it seems like the whole school year revolves around the basketball schedule, it’s amazing,” Miguel Garcia, SMU senior and Mob member said.

Brown’s influence on the SMU community has been vast. Through his success as a coach and the mentorship of his athletes, Brown has gained the trust of basketball fans.

“I don’t care about winning as much as teaching kids how to play the right way,” Brown said.

His ability to make students want to line up in the dead of a winter night for basketball tickets has changed the SMU atmosphere for the better. And he’s not done yet. Brown has a vision for SMU that he undoubtedly has the influence to force into fruition.

“Coach connects with the students and he acknowledges what fans have done to help us,” Ryan Manuel, senior starting guard for the Mustangs said. “Coach Brown wants to bring SMU, not only the basketball team but also the football team, to greater heights and he’s visible and personable so it helps.”

In 2012, ten years after being enshrined in the Basketball Hall of Fame as a coach, Larry Brown was named the head coach of the SMU Mustangs. In his first season with SMU, the Mustangs went 15-17.

“On January 4, 2014, SMU returned to the newly renovated Moody and the new atmosphere was established,” Kyle Cheves, SMU Mob member said.

Brown quickly turned the Mustangs into a 27-10 team in 2013-14, placing second in the NIT tournament after controversially being left out of the NCAA tournament. Brown led the 27-7 Mustangs to the NCAA tournament in 2015, making history and solidifying his legacy at SMU.

“Coach Brown’s presence makes the students feel like they are a part of something great. He makes each individual feel as if they are part of these magical seasons,” Cheves said.

Members of the SMU community view Brown as a symbol of change and success. Even new SMU head football coach, Chad Morris, called on Brown’s powers of persuasion at the team’s spring game. Coach Brown stepped on the field followed by his players and the crowd immediately took to their feet in support. Coach Brown called for continued support of the SMU football team; that same support his team has reaped the benefits of the past two seasons.

“I’d argue that any success we have in the future, whether it be in basketball, football, or any other sport, is a direct correlation to the culture of winning that Coach Brown has established already,” Garcia said.

Brown has been known to change losers to winners and teams to families. He says his goal is to graduate good men.

“He is obviously a great coach, but he acts like another father to all of the guys. It’s not a front either. He genuinely cares about his players,” senior center Cannen Cunningham said. “It’s just a feeling you get from him. He always asks us to come see him in his office when we have time, just to talk. He has a new story to tell you every day.”

Since the start of his career as an assistant coach for the UNC Tar Heels in 1965, Brown has coached 14 different teams in the ABA, NCAA and NBA. Though his constant movement from team to team has earned him a reputation for being disloyal, he’s always preached doing things the “right way.” To Coach Brown, it’s just as important and rewarding to be a good role model for his players as it is to win games.

“It’s a fight everyday to convince these kids that they can be more than basketball players,” Brown said. “They all think they can go to the NBA and it’s our job to give them the necessary help to show them that there is life after basketball.”

While Coach Brown focuses on developing the best basketball players and teams that he can, he cares about his players well-being and success in life. A number of Brown’s collegiate players have gone on to the NBA but his impact on all of his players has been significant no matter what their future holds.

“He told me I don’t have to play professionally and that’s kind of when I knew it wasn’t just all about basketball,” Manuel said. “He said he’d help me be successful in anything I choose. He’s impacted a lot of us and I truly believe everyone on our team cares for Coach Brown.”

Since Coach Brown’s arrival on the Hilltop, SMU has seen attendance highs in Moody Coliseum, Moody started selling alcohol, and with the establishment of the mob, student attendance and enthusiasm at all sporting events has increased.

“Coach Brown and the men’s basketball team have really reinforced that SMU can be among the nation’s best athletically the past two seasons and have brought a great deal of attention to the university,” Rick Hart, SMU Director of Athletics said.

Coach Brown is approaching his 75th birthday, so his time as a Mustang might be winding to a close. But there’s no doubt that he’s changed the atmosphere about SMU athletics, and his legacy will live on in fans.

“My first two years, I could hear my family talking in the stands. The last two years, I couldn’t hear my teammate two seats away from me,” Cunningham said. “Coach Brown definitely earned his legendary status by turning us around.”

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