He has had the itch for some time now. That is why Larry Brown planted himself at Jay Wright's Villanova practices day after day after day, why Brown agreed to serve in some nebulous role with the 76ers for the last two years, why he went to the Final Four a few weeks ago. Brown wanted to coach, wanted to smell the game, wanted to teach, wanted to hear the rhythmic sounds of leather on hardwood.
He's always said that he would be just as happy coaching a high school team, but we all know the truth. Brown wants to be part of the show, the big show, and he hated the way his last stop with the New York Knicks ended in 2006.
So when Michael Jordan, the Bobcats' part-owner, called recently, Brown listened, and Tuesday the 67-year-old landed his ninth NBA/ABA coaching job, this time with the fledgling Charlotte Bobcats. In a way, Brown is going home, back to the state where he played collegiate ball, where his professional coaching career started with the old ABA Carolina Cougars, and where his mother, a few months shy of 103 years old, lives. If he couldn't coach his beloved North Carolina Tar Heels - and Carolina made that painfully clear when it hired Roy Williams instead of Brown in 2003 - then this essentially was the next best thing.
And it's a great thing for the Bobcats.
"How are you going to say no to Michael?" Brown said at his introductory news conference in Charlotte on Tuesday afternoon. "I've known him a long time. The things he stands for have made our game better. There's no way I could say no to him. It was a pretty easy decision once my wife said yes."
I've had several conversations with Brown in recent weeks, and each one ended with Brown telling me, unsolicited, how badly he wanted back in the game. He said he was "bored" simply working as an adviser with the Sixers. He said he never got too close to the gym because he didn't want to interfere with what Maurice Cheeks was doing as the coach.
In addition to spending hours at Villanova as an observer and offering hundreds of offensive sets to Wright, Brown spent a lot of time at Memphis with his protege, John Calipari. When Tom Crean was considering taking on the monstrous task of revitalizing the Indiana Hoosiers, Crean called Brown for advice. When the Kansas Jayhawks made their run to the national championship, Bill Self invited Brown to their Sweet 16 game against Villanova, and then again to the Final Four. Brown was a nervous wreck sitting in the stands during the national championship game between Calipari's Tigers and Self's Jayhawks.
All of it just reinforced what Brown knew. He "had to coach." It is who he is. Long walks with his wife or trips overseas with his kids weren't enough to fill the void left when he was run out of Madison Square Garden two years ago.
So with his family has settled back on the Main Line and with his son and daughter entrenched in Episcopal Academy, Brown felt he could turn his attention back to basketball. Jordan, a fellow Tar Heel, provided the perfect outlet not too far away.
The Charlotte job isn't just a rebuilding job, which has been Brown's specialty as he has crisscrossed the NBA during a four-decade career. It's a start-from-scratch, do-it-yourself gig.