From 1952 to 1997, only two men – Frank McGuire and Dean Smith – were head coaches at the University of North Carolina.
Well, Larry Brown played for both in the early 1960s. McGuire recruited the 5-9 Brown out of Brooklyn and coached him for a year before Smith took over.
Brown quickly learned that McGuire, who was from New York City, and Smith, who was from Emporia, Kansas, were two very different people.
“(Smith) was kind of Midwestern, a little vanilla – a lot different than Coach McGuire,” Brown said on CBS Sports Radio’s The Doug Gottlieb Show. “Coach McGuire would walk into a room with about a thousand people in it, and he’d be the only one you saw. But (Smith) came from an unbelievable background. His dad was a coach, a high school coach, he played for Phog Allen – he just was a real student of the game.
“(Smith) was much different in coaching philosophy than Coach McGuire,” Brown continued. “Coach McGuire recruited kids from New York City expecting us to all know how to play. He wasn’t real rigid in what he expected of you. Kind of really let you play. Our practices were basically scrimmages, and then when Coach Smith got there, it was completely the opposite. He was real fundamentally sound. Every drill we had, had a purpose. Everything was on the clock. I started talking about playing the right way. I think the right way was the way Coach Smith coached.”
Yes, and it’s fair to say that Brown, 74, picked up a thing or two from Smith. After all, Brown is the only coach in basketball history to win both an NCAA national championship (Kansas, 1988) and an NBA title (Detroit, 2004).
“Coach Smith was really an innovator; I’m not like that,” said Brown, who is in his third season at SMU. “I just like to teach things that I was taught. I grew up playing for some of the great coaches. I try to take a little bit from everybody, but when I look back on my career, most of it came from Coach Smith. I think I run practice exactly how he’s run them for years. Even when I was a pro coach, I think I tried to be a teacher. And so much of it is a result of my lessons from Coach (Smith).”
Brown took news of Smith’s passing this past weekend extremely hard. Smith, who had battled dementia for several years, died in his home Saturday at the age of 83.
“The first day was really hard,” Brown said. “Roy (Williams) called me early in the morning and let me know what had happened. But then I started to hear people like you talk about coach, and then I started to read different articles that different people wrote about him and the impact he had on people. And then hearing from his ex-players and people that coached with him, it kind of made me feel special.”
The outpouring of love for Smith was unlike anything Brown had ever seen – except for maybe Vince Lombardi and John Wooden.
“When you hear ex-coaches and ex-players talk about those guys, I was so pleased with the way they remembered Coach Smith,” Brown said. “It kind of helped me get through (Monday).”