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Collected Wisdom: Former LSU basketball coach Dale Brown

Dale Brown talks about meeting Mother Teresa, coaching Shaquille O'Neal and building a fan base at LSU.
by John Helsley Published: March 31, 2012

Rising from the humblest of beginnings in North Dakota, Dale Brown credits perseverance for a career that eventually resulted in a 25-year coaching stint at LSU that featured a 448-301 record and two Final Four appearances.

During his time at LSU, he was credited with integrating the basketball team, building the program, finding Shaquille O'Neal and taking on the NCAA as one of the organization's harshest critics. In the history of the SEC, only Kentucky's Adolph Rupp has won more games.

Today, Brown remains active as a motivational speaker who runs a non-profit organization designed to help the underprivileged gain college educations. He recently wrote a book, "Getting Over the 4 Hurdles of Life," about ways of getting past common obstacles that block the paths to success, happiness and peace of mind.

I grew up with no father, abandoned us two days before I was born. My mother on welfare, lived in a one-room apartment above a bar and hardware store. Went to a small little state teachers college. Got into coaching in a tiny town on the Montana-Canadian border in North Dakota called Columbus.

I was the high school principal, head basketball coach, head wrestling coach, head track coach, taught five subjects. I made $4,700 and I thought I was robbing them when I got my check every month. I thought, ‘I can't believe they're paying me to do this.'

Rick Pitino, the book he wrote, ‘Born to Coach,' I never thought I was born to coach. I just kind of wound up in teaching and coaching to make a living, because I didn't have any income. And I fell in love with it.

I don't know if there are such things as saints, but my mother not one time talked about the man that left her. She was never bitter. She came off a farm in North Dakota with an eighth-grade education. She had to go on welfare, babysit, clean people's homes. She was the most pathologically honest human being I've ever seen in my life.

Two times, in the dead of winter, I saw her bring those paper sacks home and take out the teas and the peas and the potatoes and the bread, then go get her coat. I said, ‘Where you going, momma?' She took two quarters and a dime to the Red Owl and the Piggly Wiggly because they gave her too much change. So she was unique.

Edgar Guest, one my favorite poets, described my mother perfectly when he said, ‘I'd rather see a lesson, than hear one any day. I'd rather have you walk with me than to merely show the way. The eye is a better teacher and more willing than the ear. And the counsel you're giving me be very fine and true, but I'd rather get my examples by observing what you do.' And that's the way she was. She lived a good lifestyle.

I never slept in a bed the first 21 years of my life. My mom had a bed that pulled out from the wall. Not one of those like the hotels that swing down, but one that was actually in the wall. And I had a sofa I slept on, about 5-foot, 6-inches long that I could touch her head every night. But the apartment was clean and neat and she provided the best she could.

One of biggest regrets I've ever had in my life – the biggest – is not really telling her enough how grateful I am and how much I loved her. You grow up and you think you've got all the answers, she was the beacon light for me.

I met Mother Teresa. Fantastic experience. After we were there a day or two, I said to a couple men who were with me, ‘You know, what this woman's done is just incredible. How can she do this, in this terrible city and the poverty and death? She's got to either be crazy or a saint.' After being with her another day or two, it was easy to see she was a saint.

I think the biggest break I ever had in my career was I met Joe Dean, who was the vice president of Converse Rubber Company at Final Fours and coaching clinics. And we just hit it off. When the LSU job opened up, the athletic director Carl Maddox called Joe Dean and said, ‘Get me a list of the five best head coaches in the country, and a list of the five best assistant coaches in the country. I want to build this program.' Well, Joe gave him my name.

No way Carl Maddox would have known me. I was only a college coach for six years as an assistant, five at Utah State, one at Washington State. But I think Mr. Maddox had great respect for Joe Dean, because Joe Dean played basketball at LSU, was an All-American, got drafted into the NBA and was a catalyst for Converse's success.

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by John Helsley
OSU Reporter Sr.
John Helsley grew up in Del City, reading all the newspapers and sports magazines he could get his hands on. And Saturday afternoons, when the Major League Game of the Week was on, he'd keep a scorecard for the game. So the sports appeal was was...
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