Archive for Saturday, April 10, 1999


April 10, 1999


If the name of Red McCombs doesn't ring a bell with you, it should. He's the flamboyant new boss of football's Minnesota Vikings who has also owned basketball's San Antonio Spurs twice and the Denver Nuggets once.

Even more important, McCombs secretly flew up here about this time in 1988 and hired coach Larry Brown away from the Kansas basketball program. That made it necessary to bring in coach Roy Williams. (Oh, thank ya, Red . . . thank ya, thank ya, thank ya!)

The following 10 years, overall, have produced court nirvana for KU. Larry was sure to leave before long, and we got ourselves a genuine keeper.

The feature of local basketball events here in 1988 was, of course, KU's capture of the NCAA title with Brown and Danny and the Miracles dominating our hearts and minds. But there also was a lot of intrigue behind the scenes that generally had Larry B. peevish. (Larry was peeved a lot in '88 even though he was fitted for an NCAA title ring.)

Brown's ire was stirred when some friends informed me a batch of Jayhawk sugar-daddies had raised about $35,000 or so to try to bribe him with a nifty little red BMW convertible -- which he eventually drove off to San Antonio, if anyone should ask. Larry never was too cozy with anyone who didn't love him enough to overlook such largesse.

Then there were the '88 Senior Day events in Allen Fieldhouse, before that delightful NCAA tourney shocker. Larry wanted special attention to be paid to Archie Marshall, a favorite of his who had been hurt and could barely hobble onto the court with a bum knee. Archie managed to get off a shot and draw fantastic adulation along with Manning, Chris Piper and such. It was a stirring occasion.

Only glitch was that very day I had a column mentioning that it might not be long before UCLA would come after Brown to lure him back to Westwood where he'd tutored before. That was no shot in the dark. A friend who was quite conversant with the Bruin scenario told me frankly, "We're coming after Brown."

Larry hit the roof, saying it had spoiled his day along with that of the seniors and maybe I oughta be shot. Granted, the timing wasn't the best, but the information was. Soon Larry was negotiating with UCLA, accepted the job, came back here and got talked out of it by athletics director Bob Frederick. They even called a news conference, which turned into a love feast where fans were howling and women were throwing babies out of the balcony when Larry declared he would stay for a sixth season. (But as my column said, he not only talked to covetous UCLA but took the job, at least for a short time.)

Case closed, right? Not!

One June afternoon a trusted friend called from the Lawrence airport. He'd just seen Larry Brown talking to some people who'd flown in on a private jet with a San Antonio Spurs logo. Owner Red McCombs was one of the visitors. About an hour later, we got a wire story saying San Antonio had just fired coach Bob Weiss and was looking for a replacement.

The Journal-World ran a story saying Larry Brown had talked to the Spurs, here, so Larry was, not surprisingly, peeved again. What gall, he probably thought, what an invasion of privacy! But he still drove that little red BMW to Texas after a lucrative agreement with Red McCombs.

Larry was Browned-off again soon after that. I got wind that North Carolina assistant Roy Williams was a candidate for the job here and was lucky enough to catch head man Dean Smith on the phone. Dean not only declared Roy ripe and ready for KU but added, " . . . and he'll be there," a reference to Larry's tendency toward vagabond shoes.

Boy, was Brown peeved about that quote in my story, like I'd made it up -- and like he hadn't already run out on Kansas after switching UCLA for San Antonio. Later, Brown publicly declared he was upset that Kansas hadn't considered one of his three deserving assistants rather than hiring Williams. Truth is, none of the aides formally applied for the job here, though Larry's quote indicated they might have.

Then the horse apples really hit the fan when I responded, columnically, to the effect that "Anyone who believes everything Larry Brown says probably also thinks Mick Jagger wears wax lips and Dolly Parton sports a padded bra."

But while Larry was furious, more than 100 also-peeved people wrote me favorably about the column (and a lot more called). I didn't get one negative jab from that piece (the most reaction I've ever had on anything) . . . except from the assistant Brown had call me to complain (Larry often had other guys complain about the pain he was feeling).

So the bombastic Red McCombs sneaked in and out and set the stage in 1988 to bring Roy Williams and family from Carolina to Kansas. (Who was that masked man? Lordy, we never got to thank him -- or don't you remember those wonderful old Lone Ranger radio finales?).

-- Bill Mayer's phone message number is 832-7185. His e-mail address is

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