Former Kansas coach Larry Brown, 80, is back in college hoops as an assistant

Former KU coach joins Memphis staff as assistant

Gary Bedore
The Kansas City Star (TNS)
Former Kansas Jayhawks men basketball coach Larry Brown is returning to the sidelines in college basketball, this time as an assistant coach at Memphis.

LAWRENCE — Former Kansas men's basketball coach Larry Brown on Thursday was named assistant coach at the University of Memphis — the same day he accepted the 2021 Chuck Daly Lifetime Achievement Award presented by the National Basketball Coaches Association.

Brown, the only coach to lead teams to NCAA (KU, 1988) and NBA (Detroit Pistons, 2004) titles, last worked as a head coach in 2018. He coached 24 games for Auxilium Torino, a pro team based in Italy. Brown will coach under Penny Hardaway, who's entering his fourth year leading the Tigers.

"Penny has been talking to me for a few years since he got the job about someday possibly joining them," Brown said Thursday in an interview at NBA.com.

"I wanted to get back to coaching. I'm not very good at being idle," added Brown, who turns 81 in September. "I've been so lucky to coach great players and have great coaches sit next to me and play for so many unbelievable coaches that I just feel like I want to share what I've been taught with young kids. I think a lot of people now are afraid to coach young kids. But I think young people want that, as long as they trust you. I'm looking forward to this opportunity."

A member of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, Brown has worked as an assistant just once. He was a member of fellow Hall of Famer Dean Smith's North Carolina coaching staff from 1965-67.

Brown fills the position vacated by Tony Madlock, who left Memphis to become head coach at South Carolina State in March.

"I'm so excited that Penny has given me this chance to work with young kids and hopefully have an impact on their lives on and off the court. I'm a little nervous about it but I'm excited about it," Brown said Thursday.

"He (Hardaway) all of a sudden goes from AAU (coaching) to Memphis, where he was an unbelievable player and I've watched his teams. I think he's won 20 games almost every year — won the NIT (this) year. But more than his success in terms of record, I just hear unbelievable things about what he preaches, the character of the kids that he's coaching and what he expects from them. I just want to sit next to him and share what I was taught and learn from him as well."

Hardaway is 63-32 in three seasons at Memphis.

"Coach Brown is a legend, and his basketball knowledge is truly amazing," Hardaway said Thursday. "I could not be more thrilled to add someone of his caliber to our program. Ever since I played for him with the (New York) Knicks (in 2005-06), I have soaked up his wisdom every chance I could. He will make a tremendous impact on our student-athletes and everyone within our program."

Brown last worked as a college head coach in 2016 when he resigned after four seasons at SMU. He also coached five seasons at KU, winning the national title in 1988. He coached at UCLA two seasons from 1979-81. His 1980 UCLA team fell to Louisville in the NCAA title game. Overall, he went 266-99 in 11 seasons as a college head coach.

Brown also has been head coach of the ABA's Carolina Cougars and Denver Nuggets. He's been head coach of the NBA's Denver Nuggets, New Jersey Nets, San Antonio Spurs, Los Angeles Clippers, Indiana Pacers, Philadelphia 76ers, Detroit Pistons, New York Knicks  Charlotte Bobcats (now the Hornets). He's the only coach in NBA history to lead eight different franchises to the playoffs. Overall he went 1,098-904 in 30 seasons in the NBA.

He was elected to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2002. He was inducted into the college hall in Kansas City in 2006.

"I was coaching as (both an) assistant and freshman coach at North Carolina. That's when you only had two assistants," Brown told NBA.com. "When I got my first job in the ABA, it was Doug Moe and myself. And they called me the head coach, but I never felt that way. Doug and I go back so long that it was a collaboration. Sometimes it was like Frick and Frack, but still an interesting experience. I coached with USA Basketball as an assistant a few times. And then in 2000 with Rudy Tomjanovich in Sydney.

"But I've called a number of people that are assistants since I've been talking to Penny, trying to get a feel for how I could best serve him and help the kids. It's going to be a work in progress, but I have so much respect for Penny and what he brings, that I'm going to do my very best to do whatever he expects to me, and just try to be a loyal assistant coach," Brown added.

Brown the past many years has followed the college game closely. He often is invited to watch practices of various teams, including those of some of his former pupils: Bill Self (KU), Tad Boyle (Colorado), John Calipari (Kentucky), Mark Turgeon (Maryland) and Danny Manning (now a Maryland assistant, formerly head coach at Tulsa and Wake Forest).

To KU fans, Brown will forever be known for coaching the Jayhawks to the NCAA crown. KU defeated Oklahoma 83-79 in the title game on April 4, 1988 in Kemper Arena.

"My whole life I've been trying to figure out ways to share with coaches," Brown said. "I think it's important that we all open up and share what we know because you just want to better the game, and you want to make the kids better.

"It's going to be fun. I can't wait to smell the gym. Games to me are a little difficult because of the anxiety I have. I'll always worry if you've prepared your team for anything that might happen. Once the game starts, I'm fine. But prior to that game, it's a little bit nerve wracking.

"I watched Pete Newell give clinics after his career was over and share ideas," Brown continued. "I saw a Tex Winter, Johnny Bach and Pete Carril in the NBA as assistant coaches. They were older. And I think the people that they work for understood what they brought. I remember coach Smith brought Dick Harp to Carolina — he had played for the Dick Harp and Phog Allen. So, this is neat for me, to follow in their footsteps with Penny."