Originally Published: June 6, 2014

Top 50 coaches: No. 21 Larry Brown

By ESPN.com

BrownRay Carlin/Icon SMIIt hasn't taken Larry Brown long to turn SMU's program around in his return to college basketball.

Editor's note: Over the next five weeks, we will reveal the top 50 coaches in college basketball as decided by our ESPN Forecast panel. Today we unveil No. 21: SMU's Larry Brown. On Monday, we release No. 20.

On Tuesday, ESPN's Mark Stein and Ramona Shelburne offered an update on the NBA's two richest franchises and the respective coaching searches therein. Phil Jackson wanted to talk to Derek Fisher about the New York Knicks job, drawing from his rather limited "former role players on Phil Jackson-coached title teams" candidate pool after Steve Kerr went to the Warriors instead.

But the Lakers were interested in Fisher too and were getting down to business in their own quest. They had interviewed a handful of usual suspects already (Alvin Gentry, Byron Scott, Mike Dunleavy), had pleasant chats with others (Kurt Rambis, George Karl) and, according to the report, were maybe, kind of, sort of thinking about reaching out to two others.

The Lakers, sources add, have also internally discussed reaching out to Scott Skiles and former NBA championship-winning coach Larry Brown, who has spent the past two seasons in the college game at SMU.

And so there it was, the first NBA rumor of Brown's tenure at Southern Methodist. It's a wonder it took this long.

That was the risk SMU accepted when the university, investing heavily in basketball in advance of a transition to the American (née Big East), hired the only man in basketball history to win both an NBA and NCAA championship. There were two crucial things to know about Brown. The first was that, at 71 years old, he was both an immense symbolic figure and a razor-sharp X's and O's wizard. The second was that he usually doesn't stay in one place for very long.

So SMU hired accordingly. Brown persuaded Illinois State's Tim Jankovich -- then a head coach of his own program -- to accept a "coach-in-waiting" role (a $700,000 annual salary helped). The long-term transition accounted for, Brown then went about filling his staff with aggressive, vaunted recruiters. If SMU was going to profit from the Larry Brown Experience, it would have to do so quickly. How many years could it count on? Two? Three? The Mustangs needed players now.

Two years later, this grand experiment has gone about as well as one can imagine. In 2011-12, Matt Doherty's last year at the school, SMU won 13 games and finished ranked No. 206 in adjusted efficiency. Two seasons later, Brown's team would win 27 games (including four in the NIT, before a NIT title game loss to Minnesota), finish 30th in adjusted efficiency, play the 17th-stingiest per-possession defense in the country and head into the offseason ranked No. 11 in our too-early Top 25.

Much of those expectations are based on recruiting. Brown's staff (Ulric Maligi, who recruited top classes at Houston, and Jerrance Howard, seen by many as the best recruiter in the country, who has since left for Kansas) lured transfers to SMU quickly and then worked its previous connections relentlessly. The big payoff comes this summer, when the top-ranked point guard in the 2014 class, Emmanuel Mudiay, takes his talents to Moody Coliseum.

Larry Brown
Cooper Neill/Getty ImagesIn 1988, his final season at Kansas, Brown led the Jayhawks to an improbable national championship.

But expectations for the season to come are only a small part of what we asked our ESPN Forecast panel to consider in scoring and ranking the top 50 coaches in the country. The ranking is more about what Brown has done thus far, and the grade is an almost perfect A. Within two seasons, this legendary journeyman turned SMU into a program with cachet, talent and a defined basketball personality.

On the court, Brown has almost immediately turned his group of mostly unknown players -- a fair number of them either freshmen or transfers; all of them new to his system -- into one of the most imposing defenses in the country. Off the court, Brown has turned Moody Coliseum into a bumping building, set up his staff for future success and provided a tantalizingly direct line to the NBA for players as talented as Mudiay.

On Tuesday night, Brown scoffed at the notion of leaving SMU for L.A., telling USA Today that any conversations with Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak are more about recruiting Kupchak's highly rated son Mitchell.

"I talk to Mitch all the time," Brown said. "But we're not talking about coaching the Lakers. I've read some of the names. They've got a long list of good people to choose from, and I'm here at SMU. I want to win a national championship."

Brown doesn't look likely to leave SMU anytime soon. When he does, it is just as likely to be for retirement than his 15th (or so) crack at the NBA. But even if Brown did jump back to the pros tomorrow, this ranking would be fair. In just two years, Brown has done what he's always done and what made him worth the SMU experiment in the first place: He's brilliantly coached his team.

-- Eamonn Brennan

Previous: Nos. 50-25 » No. 24: McKillop » No. 23: McDermott » No. 22: Amaker »

Full Top 50 Coaches List

No. 50: Tie -- Randy Bennett, Saint Mary's; Scott Drew, Baylor

No. 49: Richard Pitino, Minnesota

No. 48: Stew Morrill, Utah State

No. 47: Bob Hoffman, Mercer

No. 46: John Thompson III, Georgetown

No. 45: Mike Brey, Notre Dame

No. 44: Rick Barnes, Texas

No. 43: Chris Mack, Xavier

No. 42: Josh Pastner, Memphis

No. 41: Ed Cooley, Providence

No. 40: Bruce Weber, Kansas State

No. 39: Tubby Smith, Texas Tech

No. 38: Buzz Williams, Virginia Tech

No. 37: Rick Byrd, Belmont

No. 36: Steve Alford, UCLA

No. 35: Phil Martelli, Saint Joseph's

No. 34: Tad Boyle, Colorado

No. 33: Fran McCaffery, Iowa

No. 32: Tim Miles, Nebraska

No. 31: Lon Kruger, Oklahoma

No. 30: Bob Huggins, West Virginia

No. 29: Jim Crews, Saint Louis

No. 28: Jim Larranaga, Miami

No. 27: Mick Cronin, Cincinnati

No. 26: Archie Miller, Dayton

No. 25: Jamie Dixon, Pittsburgh

No. 24: Bob McKillop, Davidson

No. 23: Greg McDermott, Creighton

No. 22: Tommy Amaker, Harvard

No. 21: Larry Brown, SMU


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