West takes a chance on an old taskmaster

To Jerry West, hiring Hubie Brown was the most sensible bold reach he could make, a mere eight losses into his unenviable bid to build a franchise in Graceland.

Originally Published: November 13, 2002
By Marc Stein | ESPN.com

Gone are the shaggy curls and grizzly beard from those old Knicks clips. Onto the dusty resume, after all this time, go the words MEMPHIS and GRIZZLIES.

Hubie Brown
Blast from the past: Hubie Brown, shown here coaching the Hawks in 1978, returns to the bench for the first time since 1986.

Don't worry.

No one around the league believes it, either.

"Hubie Brown?" one rival team executive exclaimed.

"That's way, way, way outside the box."

Or was it?

To Grizzlies president Jerry West, if only West, it was the most sensible bold reach he could make, a mere eight losses into his unenviable bid to build a franchise in Graceland. Much as he wanted to give Sidney Lowe a reasonable chance, as covered here previously, West wanted a teacher and a leader even more, preferably the same guy. So he called the forgotten Brown on Tuesday morning, once Lowe resigned to prevent his dismissal, and then ignored how hard we'd all have to strain to remember Hubie on a bench.

In West's world, at least, it's not the shock hire of the century, even if Brown will be the second-oldest coach in NBA history Friday night when the Grizz plays host to Minnesota. Even if roughly none of us ever expected Brown to coach again.

Hubie's son, Brendan, is a Grizz scout under player-personnel director Tony Barone, so there are some ties here. The masses have long assumed West was eyeing his former Laker hire Mike Dunleavy -- and Dunleavy's available now, working Mavericks pregame shows on radio and free of his contractual obligations to Portland. Instead, in Brown, West saw a teacher and leader and a guy unafraid to drop the hammer on his players. Which the Grizzlies need as much as anything.

Even if the taskmaster is 69?

"I'm 64 years old," West said at a news conference, scoffing at the age question. "I don't think there's anyone in this room who has more energy than me."

Oldest Active Coaches
Age Coach Team Birthdate
69 Hubie Brown Grizz 9/25/1933
65 Len Wilkens Raptors 10/28/1937
62 Don Nelson Mavs 5/15/1940
62 Larry Brown 76ers 9/14/1940
60 Jerry Sloan Jazz 3/28/1942
59 Paul Silas Hornets 7/12/1943
57 Pat Riley Heat 3/20/1945
57 Phil Jackson Lakers 9/17/1945
56 Don Chaney Knicks 03/22/1946
56 Rick Adelman Kings 6/16/1946

Who knows? This could actually work for a season or two. Brown's not going to be coaching a young Patrick Ewing in the most intense media spotlight imaginable. The Grizz, in the Western Conference, have no illusions about competing for anything in the short-term. Their immediate assignment is making an All-Star out of Pau Gasol or Drew Gooden or, better yet, both. Also paramount is getting a grip on Jason Williams, which probably is a two-man job, even if JWill and JWest are both West Virginians.

If Brown is really there to simply instruct and instill discipline and impart some NBA savvy on all the raw kiddies, relating to his players isn't such a problem -- as it was with the Knicks and Hawks so long ago. He's Jerry's guy, unlike Lowe. The players will have to relate to Hubie.

JWill, especially. If Brevin Knight wasn't ailing, you could see Brown coming in and benching the renegade point guard right away, to send the first loud message about the disjointed and dispirited play from the Grizz under Lowe. West repeatedly described Brown as the "consummate" or "ultimate" teacher and the early lessons are bound to be harsh, starting on the defensive end. Memphis not only allows a league-worst 104 points per game, but a league-worst opponents' shooting percentage of .466.

"We need to have better players," West said, putting some heat on his own acquisition skills as well. "We need a superstar here. We have a couple young players who can develop into tremendous players, but they're not there yet.

"I just see," West added, "a tremendous lack of confidence. And it permeates (through) everybody."

Assuming Hubie hasn't changed, besides his switch to that more modern Caesar haircut, he still has the ego to believe that he can build some Grizz confidence. He was also undoubtedly feeling somewhat left out at TNT, Charles Barkley's network now, which had to make the opportunity to team up with La Logo even more enticing.

Gasol was a little boy in Barcelona, just 6, when Brown was fired by the Knicks on Dec. 1, 1986. In the 16 years since, Brown has become renowned for his constant TV references about how it is in "our league."

With West, if only West, it's the catch phrase that helped keep Hubie on the radar.

Marc Stein is the senior NBA writer for ESPN.com. To e-mail him, click here.

Marc Stein | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com
• Senior NBA writer for ESPN.com
• Began covering the NBA in 1993-94
• Also covered soccer, tennis and the Olympics

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