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Larry Brown Just Up and Left Again

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Getty Images

Larry Brown stepped down as head coach of Southern Methodist University’s men’s basketball team Friday morning. Brown led the Mustangs to a 94–39 mark over four turbulent seasons that saw the program rise from mediocrity (SMU posted just one winning record in the nine years before Brown’s arrival), qualify for the 2015 NCAA tournament (the Mustangs lost to UCLA in the round of 64), and get hit with NCAA sanctions and a 2016 postseason ban (the team was found guilty of multiple violations, including academic fraud and unethical conduct). And the country sighed: Here we go again.

Brown resigned, according to reports, because the school wouldn’t offer the 75-year-old a long-term contract. When asked about his decision, Brown told ESPN’s Andy Katz: “I’ve got nothing else I can say right now.”

As those with even a passing awareness of Brown’s career are probably aware, this is far from the first time that he has unceremoniously up and left a job. In more than four decades leading teams, his basketball brilliance — he is the only coach to have won both an NCAA championship (at Kansas, in 1988) and an NBA title (with the Pistons, in 2004) — has been matched only by his willingness to look for the next big thing: His Mustangs stint marked his 14th coaching position in college and professional basketball.

Below, some of Brown’s more notable departures.

1981: UCLA

The then-40-year-old Brown left UCLA after two seasons to coach the Nets; his Bruins tenure is perhaps most noteworthy for producing one of the only Final Four squads in college basketball history to have its record vacated, after the 1979–80 team was found to be ineligible. Brown was described in a report on his resignation as “outspoken and recently embattled” — earlier that season, he kicked freshman center Kenny Fields off the Bruins for attitude problems, said he would never allow Fields back on the team, and then promptly reinstated him — terms that could have been used to accurately label Brown at pretty much any point in his career thereafter.

1983: New Jersey Nets

With six games left in the 1983 regular season and the playoffs on the horizon, Brown abruptly resigned after team owner Joe Taub told him, “It would be best if you go now.” This pronouncement came after Brown made it clear that he was considering an offer from Kansas, thereby forcing the other, more obviously wronged party to be the one to do the dumping. Brown departed the Nets after going 91–69 over two seasons.

1988: Kansas

Brown’s tenure at Kansas is the stuff of legend: five NCAA tournament appearances, two Final Fours, a national championship, Coach of the Year honors, and a 135–44 record. He left the Jayhawks just in time for (surprise!) the team to get hit with major NCAA sanctions.

1992: San Antonio Spurs

The Spurs were second in the Midwest Division when Brown suddenly departed in January. Less than three weeks later, he was coaching the Clippers. Brown has at times exhibited something of a fondness for the narrative of getting fired: He claimed that he was canned by San Antonio, while the Spurs’ leadership said Brown resigned.

2005: Detroit Pistons

While employed by the Pistons, with whom he won a championship in 2004, Brown publicly flirted with other franchises: He reportedly took meetings with the Cavaliers about their open presidency (which Brown did not deny) and told the New York Post that coaching in New York was his “dream” job (which he would eventually leave to take). This infuriated Detroit leadership, who fired Brown less than a month after the Pistons lost to the Spurs in the NBA Finals.

Shortly before his client was asked to go, Brown’s agent made perhaps the least sincere expression of sincerity that has ever been uttered: “Larry Brown is physically, spiritually, and enthusiastically willing to coach the Detroit Pistons next season.”

2006: New York Knicks

In what has been referred to as “the most drawn-out firing in sports history,” Brown — who spent the season publicly skirmishing with Stephon Marbury — departed with four years and a reported $40 million left on his contract after leading the Knicks to a 23–59 record, the second worst in the league. While this has nothing to with Brown, it’s also worth noting here that the Knicks traded away their unprotected 2006 first-round pick as part of the deal to acquire Eddy Curry. That pick became LaMarcus Aldridge. [Climbs mountain, clears throat] KNIIIIIIIICKS!

2010: Charlotte Bobcats

Brown departed after a grim start to his third season in Charlotte, with the Bobcats then 9–19. While this was presented to the basketball public as a resignation, it is widely believed that he was shitcanned by none other than Michael Jordan himself.