Where does one begin in telling the story of a coach like Dale Brown?
Many parts of that story will be told Friday night when he becomes the latest in the Head Coach/Administrator category to be inducted into the LSU Athletic Hall of Fame.
This year he is the second inductee from the sport of basketball joining 1940s star Frank Brian. He becomes the 11th overall inductee at LSU from the sport of men’s basketball.
“I am truly humbled by this honor that LSU has bestowed upon me,” Brown said earlier this week. “I feel undeserving of such praise because there are many unsung teachers and coaches that have dedicated their lives to impacting the lives of their players and students. I am truly grateful that LSU gave me the platform to not only influence and inspire my players but also many other people along the way.”
To summarize Brown’s career it could be written as follows:
Brown took over a struggling LSU men’s basketball program in 1972 and built it into a consistent winner that played in front of sell-out crowds in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center. He led the Tigers to Final Four appearances in 1981 and 1986, along with two other NCAA Elite Eight appearances (1980, 1987) and one more Sweet 16 berth (1979). He built a powerhouse program in the SEC, winning league titles four times (1979, 1981, 1986, 1989) while taking LSU to 13 NCAA Tournament appearances.
Brown was named National Coach of the Year in 1981 when the Tigers won an SEC title and stormed to the Final Four in Philadelphia. In 1986 his Tigers stunned the college basketball world when he took a Cinderella team from an 11th seed in the NCAA Tournament to a Final Four berth in Dallas.
Brown earned SEC Coach of the Year honors four times (1973, 1979, 1981, 1989). By the time he retired from LSU in 1997, he compiled a 25-year mark of 448 wins and coached three first-team All-Americans – Rudy Macklin, Chris Jackson and Shaquille O’Neal.”
There you have the superficial story of Brown’s LSU career.
This native of Minot, N.D., born on of all days, Halloween in 1935, was a four-sport athlete at St. Leo’s High School that earned him a scholarship to Minot State. He was the only athlete at Minot State to earn 12 letters (4 each) in football, basketball and track.
Basketball playing led to basketball coaching but it would be a long and winding road for Dale Brown from his first head coaching job in 1957 at Columbus High School in Columbus, N.D., to head coach at LSU prior to the 1972-73 season.
Carl Maddox was the LSU AD when a coach was being searched to replace Press Maravich, who was relieved of his duties after the 1971-72 season. Maddox went after Bob Boyd, but after Boyd decided not to leave Southern Cal, he was one of the two people to recommend a young assistant named Dale Brown. The other was former LSU basketball player, television commentator and future LSU AD Joe Dean.
Joe Dean told Brown: “If you take the job, you will raise the flag, you will sing the national anthem, you will keep your own stats, and you will sweep the floor. They are totally uninterested in basketball.”
A local writer after Brown was hired wrote: “Dale Brown inherited a job that, if it’s not impossible, it’s as close to impossible as any college basketball job in the country.”
His first salary was $23,000. Brown wrote in one of his books that he never asked his salary until he signed a contract. He came to Baton Rouge with three suits, a Volkswagen and $800 in cash.
“From the moment my family arrived in Baton Rouge 41 years ago,” Brown said, “We felt a special connection to the sincere and fun loving people of Louisiana. I am proud to call Louisiana my home and that the people adopted this North Dakota boy as one of their own.”
Brown would show us all in Louisiana that he wasn’t going to just be a basketball coach and nothing more. He was determined to be a salesman and a promoter of LSU basketball. Coach Brown knew players were coming right away, but he knew he needed to promote the game of basketball in Louisiana.
Brown found a company that manufactured purple and gold nets. His assistant’s wife, Janet Drew, wrote a poem about LSU basketball: “This is a net from the purple and gold for a sport that will never grow old.” The LSU staff headed out to all parts of the state and anytime they saw a basket, the group would stop and make sure the owners got a package with a purple and gold net.
The first team Brown coached was expected to win two games in the SEC. One day in the post office Brown saw a wanted poster. From there came the idea of putting the team picture on a wanted poster that called the team “the Hustlers.” The team hustled and captured everyone’s heart. In the first home game, the Tigers beat Memphis, 94-81. Memphis would go on to play for the national championship at the end of the year. LSU would finish fifth in the league and 9-9 in the SEC. Brown received the honor as the SEC Coach of the Year.
LSU basketball was well on its way. Well, not so fast.
After winning 14 games the first year, the Tigers won no more than 12 games each of the next three years. Not only was Brown’s team struggling to win, but he was finding the recruiting world rather unseemly. He was having second doubts about his ability to recruit honorably and get athletes to LSU.
Brown was so frustrated he went to Athletic Director Carl Maddox and Chancellor Paul Murrill. He told them, “I’m just not sure I can get the job done with my philosophy.” Maddox told him that if he continued to do the job the same way and be disciplined in doing it, that Maddox would back him.
The next year the Tigers had a winning season, and the rest is history.
One of the first major wins for LSU came in Brown’s sixth season against Kentucky. The Wildcats were No. 1 that would go on to win the national championship. But it was the typical game where the underdog Tigers were prepared and fired up by their coach. All five starters had fouled out for LSU as the game went to overtime. But somehow, someway, the Tigers would win 95-94 and finished 18-9.
Suddenly, LSU was getting national recognition. In 1979, the team would win the school’s first SEC regular season title in 25 years. Now everyone knew who LSU was and the Tigers were playing some of the best teams in the country. After winning the SEC Tournament title in 1980, Rudy Macklin, Greg Cook, Leonard Mitchell, Howard Carter, Ethan Martin and Willie Sims in 1981 would win 26 consecutive games which included 17 straight in the conference. The team made LSU’s first trip to the NCAA Final Four since 1953, and Brown was the National Coach of the Year.
The Tigers of 1986 had one of the more remarkable rides of all the teams that have made it over the years to the NCAA Final Four. A team that started fast was struggling to win games in January and February while also forced to battle a chicken pox scare that forced LSU to play four games in five days. But LSU was given a chance to play in the NCAA Tournament and was seeded 11th. But the advantage was still on LSU’s side as the Tigers hosted the first two rounds in the then LSU Assembly Center.
Higher ranked Purdue went down in double-overtime in the first round. Two days later, the Assembly Center went nuts when Anthony Wilson picked up a loose ball and shot as the clock was running out to advance LSU to the regional finals. The Deaf Dome Magic was at its peak.
But the run wasn’t over as LSU beat Georgia Tech to get to the regional semifinals. There waiting for Coach Brown and the Tigers was Kentucky, a team that had already knocked off LSU three times that year. Now there would be a fourth meeting for a spot in the NCAA Final Four.
The team led by John Williams found help from Don Redden and bulked-up Ricky Blanton, who had been forced to move to the center spot and defeated Kentucky, 59-57, to get to another Final Four, this time as the lowest seeded team at that point in tournament history to make the Final Four.
The numbers of Brown’s 25 years speak for themselves:
- 448 wins (still to this day, second only to Adolph Rupp in the SEC).
- Final Fours –1981, 1986
- Elite Eight – 1980, 1981, 1986, 1987
- Tournament appearances – 15 (13 NCAA—including 10 straight 1984-93, 2 NIT)
- SEC Championships – 1979, 1981, 1986, 1991 (only 3 SEC coaches have won more).
- SEC Tournament Championship – 1980
- SEC Coach of the Year – 1973, 1979, 1981, 1989
- National Coach of the Year – 1981
- Member, Louisiana Sports Writers Association Hall of Fame.
In his 25th and final season, Brown offered two thoughts about his way of doing things:
“Our way of doing things will not prevent us from getting talented players … It never has, but the player who comes to LSU should be someone who believes that team goals are more important than individual goals. There are some players today who probably cannot relate to that, but I think there are still a special few who can and that is who we want to wear the uniform.”
Brown coaches some of those special people who earned special post-season honors – Al Green, Rudy Macklin, Ethan Martin, Howard Carter, Chris Jackson (Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf), Shaquille O’Neal – but there were so many others who could have had A-A by their names who sacrificed for the good of the team in following Coach Brown’s beliefs.
“I can’t coach everyone,” he also said prior to his 25th year (1996-97). “Someone quoted me as saying that I can only coach certain kinds of players … I think that’s true. Only certain types of players can reach their capacity under me. If a player is not committed to excellence … if he is not interested in being a part of a family concept … if he is only interested in himself … if all he cares about is polishing his skills so he can make a lot of money in the NBA, then he shouldn’t probably play for me.”
When Brown retired in 1997, he didn’t just fade away. It wouldn’t be his style. Today, he is at his happiest watching the young man he recruited to play at LSU who then became a loyal assistant for so many years, finally get his chance to shine as the head coach of the Tigers. There is no doubting Johnny Jones is his own man, but he learned well from one of the giants of the game.
Brown is still involved with many of the causes he has always put his heart and soul into and he is continually sought out for speaking engagements and clinics. But now he has more time to watch his grandchildren grow into young adults and to keep in touch with a boatload of players who passed through Baton Rouge in his 25 years.
The late John Wooden said of Brown: “I’ll always remember Dale for his natural enthusiasm. “There are those who say he’s a put-on, they just can’t believe that he can be what he professes … but I never questioned that. He amazes me because there is a lot more depth to this man. He’s much more than a basketball coach.”
In truth, LSU is inducting a basketball coach into the Athletic Hall of Fame. But the Hall is also inducting a man who has meant so much more to the growth of the game in Louisiana, in the Southeastern Conference and whose beliefs have led him to a colorful, compassionate and fascinating life that many of us have been fortunate to be a small part.
“There are many, many great memories of my 25 years as LSU’s head basketball coach,” Brown said in thinking back over his career. “However, the memories I cherish the most are the relationships and love that I have for my players, friends and family. Also, I can’t thank the LSU fans enough for their support that continues even today.”
The love Dale Brown has shown for LSU gets returned in full Friday night when he is inducted into the LSU Athletic Hall of Fame.