Packer deserves credit

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Billy Packer, the semi-retired college basketball analyst, has encountered floods of critics in his long career. A goodly number of them are Kansas-oriented. But local folks shouldn’t be quite so harsh with the former Wake Forest guard since he was a key man in bringing Larry Brown here to inaugurate an unparalleled run of Jayhawk success.

Athletic director Monte Johnson had turned coach Ted Owens loose in 1983 and was covering a lot of territory to find a successor. He got back from a headhunting trip and had a call from Spider Reed, a noted wood sculptor and the son of the late Betty and Clyde Reed of Parsons. Reed told Monte he thought Larry Brown, then coaching the New Jersey Nets, just might be receptive to some kind of offer. Ridiculous? Not to Johnson.

Monte then heard from Billy Packer that Larry might be willing to move back to a college atmosphere. Once the aggressive, inventive Monte got the scent, things fell into place.

Johnson set up a secret meeting with Larry, and they came up with a blockbuster alliance that few of us could believe. Since Larry played ball under Dean Smith at North Carolina, there’s a fallacy that Dean helped guide Brown this way. Not! This was strictly a Reed-Packer-Johnson-Brown operation. Dean factored heavily in sending Roy Williams to Kansas; not Larry Brown. That was vintage Monte Johnson.

In his five seasons here, Brown guided the Jayhawks to a 135-44 record that included a 1988 NCAA title and a tremendous buildup of excitement that KU followers have perpetuated. Williams’ 15-year mark of 418-101 kept the fever high and growing, then in six years Bill Self has won more than eight out of every 10 games and a 2008 NCAA title. Is a second one in the works for 2009-10?

But when anti-Packer folks gather to howl at the moon and deprecate his career and image, the Kansas contingent might lighten up a bit considering Billy’s role in helping spark the most productive 25-year run in Jayhawk history.

The college-to-pro and pro-to-college coaching picture is intriguing. Vagabond shoes and all, Brown is the only coach ever to win a college and NBA title (Detroit in 2004). I doubt anyone will do that again.

There has been recent talk that Louisville’s Rick Pitino might heed an offer from Sacramento of the NBA. After winning the NCAA at Kentucky and building up Louisville as he has, why would he even consider another pro floppola like his ones with New York and Boston? John Calipari failed with New Jersey, got Memphis rolling and now has a dream job at Kentucky. But then, Brown has swung both ways with success.

A revealing list of college coaches who didn’t succeed in the NBA includes Pitino, Calipari, Lon Kruger, Clair Bee, Jeff Bzdelik, Jerry Tarkanian, Dick Vitale, Bill Blair, Lou Carnesecca, P.J. Carlesimo, Mike Montgomery and Tim Floyd.

Some modern-day coaches have gone from college to pro and done fairly well, among them Gregg Popovich, Bill Fitch, Dick Motta, Chuck Daly, Cotton Fitzsimmons, John MacLeod and Jack Ramsay.

Yet nobody’s been a switch-hitter like Brown. And Packer for all his faults figured in bringing Larry to trigger a KU renaissance.