Larry Brown was hired as coach of the Indiana Pacers on Monday, taking over his fifth NBA team 2 1/2 weeks after quitting the Clippers.
“I’m hopeful this will be my last stop,” Brown said. “But I’ve said that before.”
Brown’s hiring, expected for some time, was announced at an Indianapolis news conference. There had been speculation that he would also be put in charge of personnel decisions, perhaps as general manager, but he said team President Donnie Walsh would continue to have final say on player matters.
Brown and Walsh were teammates at North Carolina and have been friends since. And Brown and George Irvine, the Pacers’ vice president for basketball operations, were teammates in the old American Basketball Assn. Brown, in fact, gave Irvine his first NBA coaching job as his assistant at Denver.
Cronyism had nothing to do with Brown’s hiring, though, Walsh said.
“Larry and I go way, way back,” he acknowledged. “But the real reason is, we’re hiring a great coach, one of the best in the business. It’s a step toward building our team and I think we’ve made a significant jump.
“When I looked at Larry’s record, it blew me away. He’s won everywhere he’s coached. The fact that we’re friends is second place to that.”
Said the 52-year-old Brown: “I know Donnie wouldn’t hire me unless he thought I could do the job, no matter what the friendship is.”
The Pacers’ previous coach, Bob Hill, was fired after a 41-41 season and first-round expulsion from the playoffs, the same fate that befell the Clippers. Walsh began pursuit of Brown before Brown resigned from the Clippers after 1 1/2 seasons, but was turned down at first by the Clippers. Once permission was granted, negotiations moved forward.
Brown is 434-342 in the NBA and has had only one losing season in his 14 years in both professional leagues, a 21-61 record in his first campaign at San Antonio in 1988-89. The next season, with the arrival of David Robinson, the Spurs were 56-26 and won the Midwest Division title, their 35-game turnaround the biggest in NBA history.
“I like this team,” Brown said of the Pacers. “I think we can make it better . . . I think we need to make it better.”
Meanwhile, the search for Brown’s successor by the Clippers continues. Since being jilted by Lenny Wilkens a week ago, they have interviewed only Del Harris. They might talk to Denver assistant Gene Littles at a pre-draft scouting combine this week, but had not asked the Nuggets for permission to do so as of Friday.
That, in addition to indications that no interviews are scheduled this week, gives the impression that the process has stalled at what could be a crucial time. The first big decision, whether to pick up Ron Harper’s $4-million option for next season, is due June 15.