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Mizzou Moves To The SEC: Dale Brown's Story Stands Alone

6 Mar 1997: Coach Dale Brown of the Louisiana State Tigers watches his players during a playoff game against the Georgia Bulldogs at the Pyramid in Memphis, Tennessee. Georgia won the game 75-54. Mandatory Credit: Andy Lyons /Allsport
6 Mar 1997: Coach Dale Brown of the Louisiana State Tigers watches his players during a playoff game against the Georgia Bulldogs at the Pyramid in Memphis, Tennessee. Georgia won the game 75-54. Mandatory Credit: Andy Lyons /Allsport

Dale Brown, from Minot, ND, was a standout high school athlete that once posted the highest scoring average in state basketball history and also set a school record in the quarter mile. In college at Minot State Teacher’s College, he earned 12 varsity letters in football, basketball and track; he was the only person to accomplish this in these three sports. He was the head basketball coach at two North Dakota high schools between 1957-1964, with a brief interlude as the head basketball coach at Fort Riley, KS, serving in the US Army as a Sgt. He coached basketball at the middle school and high school levels, then was an assistant coach at Utah State and Washington State before getting his first head coaching job at LSU in 1972. He would remain the head coach in Baton Rouge until 1997, being forced into retirement following a scandal involving a name that will be familiar to Mizzou fans.

Still, for 25 years Dale Brown led his teams to 448 wins against 301 losses, would go to 15 straight post-season appearances between 1979-1993, including 13 NCAA Tournament appearances, two Final Fours, two more Elite Eights, and another Sweet Sixteen, 4 SEC Championships and 1 SEC Tournament Championship. Brown is the only SEC coach to have ever appeared in 15 straight national tournaments and only 11 coaches in NCAA history have made more consecutive NCAA appearances (10). Only the legendary Adolph Rupp of Kentucky has won more games in SEC history. Brown and Rupp are the only SEC coaches that had 17 consecutive non-losing seasons. Only 3 coaches in the SEC have won more conference championships: Adolph Rupp, Joe Hall and Tubby Smith. Only 6 coaches in the SEC have led their teams to two Final Fours or more: Dale Brown, Billy Donovan, Joe Hall, Rick Pitino, Noland Richardson and Adolph Rupp.

On nine occasions Brown was selected as the SEC Coach of the Year or Runner-Up. He was twice chosen as the National Coach of the Year. Brown has the distinction of beating Kentucky more than any coach in the nation. 110 of his 160 players received their college degrees. He is a member of the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame and Basketball Coaches Hall of Fame. In 2004 he was inducted as an SEC Living Legend. In 2010, the Tiger Rag, the Bible of LSU sports, ranked Brown in the top 5 of the most influential people in LSU athletics history. A movie about Dale Brown, Man in the Glass: The Dale Brown Story, came out in 2010.

It seems to go without saying, then, that Dale Brown was one of the best and most positive people that has ever graced LSU and certainly LSU basketball. But not everything was always perfect in Baton Rouge. By 1982, 10 years into his career there, Dale Brown had established himself and LSU as belonging among the elite in the sport, but Brown’s Tigers experienced a decline in the next two years. While still having some star players, LSU would not make the NCAA tournament in ’82 and ’83 and would lose in the first round of the NIT in both seasons. While getting back on track the next few years, underachievement marred the overall successes of the teams.

In 1984, the Tigers were upset by #10-seed Dayton in the NCAA Tournament. 1985 was even more embarrassing, seeing #4-seed LSU lose in the first round to #13-seed Navy (led by a then-unknown David Robinson). It was also during this time that Brown, a vocal, outspoken, relentless critic of the NCAA, began having some of his most notorious run-ins with the governing organization of college sports. He began publicly calling them "hypocrites" and even "The Gestapo" and consistently argued that the NCAA should be more compassionate when enforcing rules governing compensation for student-athletes especially in situations involving athletes who are truly in need. The NCAA began conducting a four-year investigation into Brown and the LSU basketball program in the early 1980s. The investigation yielded only some minor infractions, but the tension between Brown and the NCAA would remain.

1986 should have been a disaster for LSU and Brown, but instead it is known to many Tiger fans as the greatest season in the school’s basketball history. The Tigers lost their best player from the previous season, Jerry "Ice" Reynolds, to the NBA draft, and incoming freshman, Tito Horford, was kicked off the team two months into the season. Their starting center, Zoran Jovanovich, injured his knee in December. Nikita Wilson was academically ineligible after the fall semester. Brown was forced late in the season to move shooting guard Ricky Blanton to starting center. In addition to all these troubles, some LSU players contracted chicken pox during the SEC regular season, including star player John Williams. In spite of all these troubles, LSU jumped out to a 14-0 start and finished with a 22-11 record. They made it into the NCAA Tournament as an 11-seed, a decision some were critical of because of their late-season slump. But thanks in part to an unusual, confusing defense Brown devised, which he called the "Freak Defense," the Tigers overcame their lack of talent and depth to make an unlikely run.

After a 2OT victory over #6-seed Purdue, LSU had to beat the top three seeds in its region to reach the Final Four. The Tigers did just that, defeating #3-seed Memphis on a last-second shot by Anthony Wilson, #2-seed Georgia Tech and top seed Kentucky (which had already beaten LSU three times that year). The Tigers, however, lost to #2-seed Louisville in the Final Four. Louisville went on to win the National Title. The ’86-’87 season was almost a carbon copy of the previous season, except that Dale Brown finished just seconds away from taking LSU to another Final Four. The Tigers lost to #1-seed Indiana in the Elite 8 despite holding a 9-point lead with 5 minutes remaining. The Hoosiers won the National Championship, and it was the fifth time in 9 years that Dale Brown’s Tigers were eliminated by the eventual national champion. Brown had established his reputation as the "Master Motivator", and was now considered a coach who could get the best out of his least-talented teams through inspiration, sheer will, and the "Freak Defense". This reputation afforded him the opportunity to see what he could do with bona fide superstars in the coming years. Unfortunately for Brown, these years arguably proved to be the most disappointing of his LSU career. It was during these years that the "Master Motivator" label backfired on him and by the end of the 1992 season, Brown was now known as a coach who could get the least out of his most-talented teams.

The next few recruiting classes to sign with LSU were simply loaded with stars. In 1988, the Tigers signed Stanley Roberts (1991 1st Round NBA Pick) and Chris Jackson (who you may remember better as Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, 1990 1st Round NBA Pick). In 1989, they signed Maurice Williamson (the son of former NBA star John Williamson), Geert Hammink (1993 1st Round NBA Pick), and a towering big man with an even bigger personality from Robert G. Cole High School in San Antonio, TX, named Shaquille O’Neal. While Jackson (Abdul-Rauf) was the first of these recruits to become a star, earning All-American honors in his freshman season after leading the nation in scoring with a still-standing freshman record of 30.2ppg, it was Shaquille O’Neal that would define the early 90s at LSU before his dominating 19-year career in the NBA.

Despite this abundance of talent, LSU would see a dearth of success especially in the post-season. After a 20-win season in 1989, the Tigers would lose their first round NCAA Tournament game to UTEP, led by future NBA Star Tim Hardaway. The 1990 team, that featured 4 future first-round NBA players, began the season ranked #2 but failed to meet those lofty expectations. Finishing the season 23-9, LSU lost a heartbreaker in the second round of the 1990 NCAA Tournament to Georgia Tech, led by future NBA players Kenny Anderson, Dennis Scott, Malcom Mackey and Brian Oliver. The 1991 team, led by National Player of the Year Shaquille O’Neal, won 20 games but lost badly to UConn in the first round of the NCAA Tournament (O’Neal was out with an injury), and the 1992 team won 21 games only to fall to Indiana in the 2nd round of the NCAA Tournament. During these years, LSU won 72% of its SEC games, won one SEC conference title and finished 2nd twice.

There’s probably very little to tell you about Shaquille O’Neal that you don’t already know. He had first met coach Dale Brown years earlier in Europe, as O’Neal’s stepfather was stationed on a US Army base at Wildflecken, West Germany. Shaq took LSU to new heights of popularity as the 7’1" superstar became a national celebrity in the days of saturation coverage of basketball. He earned his celebrity status with great play and an intimidation factor that made him the envy of coaches throughout the country. He was a two-time consensus SEC Player of the Year and 1st-team All-American in 1991 and 1992. He was the AP as well as the UPI National Player of the year in 1991, and was also named World Amateur Athlete of the Year that year. He set the SEC record for most blocks in a season three consecutive years (115 in 1990, 140 in 1991 and 157 in 1992). He also set the SEC record for career blocks with 412, and blocked 5 or more shots in a game 45 times in his 90 games. He was the first player to lead the SEC in scoring, rebounding, field goal percentage and blocked shots in the same season (1991). He nearly repeated that feat in 1992 but finished 2nd in scoring. He was the first player to lead the SEC in rebounding three straight seasons since Charles Barkley of Auburn, 1982-84. He finished his college career with 1,217 rebounds, seventh all-time in the SEC and second all-time at LSU, and was the first LSU player to record back-to-back 400+ rebound seasons.

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O'Neals 1,941 career points is fourth all-time at LSU behind only Maravich, Durand Macklin and Howard Carter. He was the fourth LSU player to have his number retired. His professional career is one of pure legend. After being the #1 overall pick by the Orlando Magic in 1992, Shaq would go on to be Rookie of the Year (1993), a 4-time NBA Champion (2000, 2001, 2002, 2006), 3-time NBA Finals MVP, NBA MVP (2000), 15-time NBA All-Star, 3-time NBA All-Star Game MVP, 2-time NBA Scoring Champion, 8-time All-NBA First Team, and would win a Gold Medal in the 1996 Olympics. He finished his career with 28,596 points (23.7ppg) and 13,099 rebounds (10.9rpg). He ranks 6th all-time in points scored, 5th in field goals, 13th in rebounds, and 7th in blocked shots. But perhaps his most notable and momentous achievement of his life came in 1994 when he was the star of a Sega Genesis/Super NES 2D fighting game called Shaq Fu.

O’Neal went pro following the 1992 season, and though the Tigers still managed 22 wins in the 1993 season they once again saw their season end in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on a last second shot from then Cal superstar Jason Kidd. The 1993 NCAA Tournament appearance would be the last post-season appearance of the Dale Brown era, and the school’s last until 2000.

Dale Brown's final four years at LSU were mostly forgettable. All four seasons ended in losing records. Brown was still bringing talented players into the program, but things did not work out due to the loss of numerous star players because of injuries, dismissal from the team, or leaving early for the NBA. In 1996, Brown brought in his last star recruit: Baton Rouge high school phenom Lester Earl. Earl lasted 11 games at LSU before he was suspended. He transferred to the University of kansas soon afterward. While at kansas, Earl said that an LSU assistant coach gave him money when he was at LSU. The NCAA quickly began an investigation into LSU and Dale Brown. While it found no evidence that Brown or his assistants paid Earl, it did find that a former booster paid Earl about $5,000 while he was attending LSU.

LSU was placed on probation in 1998. The probation remains a sore subject for many people in Louisiana, as many Brown and LSU supporters were angry with the NCAA’s decision. They were convinced that the NCAA unfairly came down hard on LSU only because Dale Brown had long been a thorn in its side. They were also angry that Earl received immunity, never had to repay the money, and would eventually regain the eligibility he lost when he transferred from LSU. In August 2007, Lester Earl issued an apology to Brown, then-assistant head coach Johnny Jones, and LSU in general for his role in the NCAA investigation. Earl now claims that the NCAA pressured him into making false claims against Dale Brown or else he would lose years of NCAA eligibility.

"I was pressured into telling them something. I was 19 years old at that time. The NCAA intimidated me, manipulated me into making up things, and basically encouraged me to lie, in order to be able to finish my playing career at Kansas. They told me if we don't find any dirt on Coach Brown you won't be allowed to play but one more year at Kansas. I caused great harm, heartache and difficulties for so many people. I feel sorriest for hurting Coach Brown. Coach Brown, I apologize to you for tarnishing your magnificent career at LSU."

The NCAA has declined additional comment on the situation. Dale Brown, who says he has forgiven Earl, retired from LSU in 1997. Fortunately for many, he was not done contributing his leadership and time in areas of need. Dale Brown kept a low profile in his involvement with LSU athletics. He stayed in Baton Rouge after his retirement and created his own business, Dale Brown Enterprises. Brown has also worked as a college basketball analyst and is a motivational speaker and author of several books. He is also the CEO of the Dale Brown Foundation, established in 1986 to help those in need. The Foundation was very active after the hurricanes devastated Louisiana in 2005.

After a couple of fruitless attempts by many in North Dakota to get him to run for the United States Senate, Brown suffered a stroke on April 24, 2003. He made a strong recovery and was back at work a month later. In 2004, former LSU athletic director and basketball player Joe Dean, who announced many LSU games as a television color commentator during Brown's tenure as a coach and later selected Brown's successor, John Brady, submitted a letter to a Baton Rouge newspaper saying that he believes that the basketball floor at the LSU should be named after Brown. In addition, LSU honored Brown and his 1986 team in February on the 20th anniversary of their improbable run to the Final Four.

Many fans consider Brown to be one of the best human beings and better coaches they have seen in the college ranks. In the summer of 2007, Brown appeared on the ABC show Shaq's Big Challenge to offer words of encouragement to Shaquille O'Neal about helping obese children. He also was an advisor to Matthew McConaughey, who played the role of Marshall University football coach Jack Lengyel in the movie We Are Marshall.