An official from the University of North Carolina was in California Sunday meeting with Larry Brown. But it wasn't to offer the 76ers' head coach the Tar Heels' coaching job.
Dick Baddour, the athletic director at North Carolina, went to Los Angeles to talk to Brown about the job vacated by Bill Guthridge on June 30.
The two were scheduled to have dinner Sunday night in a sort of feeling-out process before Baddour's return to Chapel Hill.
No other Carolina officials accompanied Baddour.
If both sides agree that Sunday's meeting went well, Brown probably will travel to Chapel Hill in the next few days. There, he would meet with Carolina's interim chancellor, William O. McCoy, and other school officials, including Dean Smith, the legendary former coach of the Tar Heels, who has been a mentor to Brown.
Smith placed a call to Sixers president Pat Croce on Friday on behalf of the university, asking for permission to speak to Brown about the Tar Heels job. Smith apparently has stepped aside for the time being.
University sources say that Smith wants Brown to be Guthridge's successor and has made his preference known, but that the decision is not solely in his hands.
"Aside from letting it be known that the Sixers were contacted by North Carolina for permission to speak to Coach Brown, our position has been not to comment on the matter until Coach touches further bases with us," said Dave Coskey, the Sixers' senior vice president. "At that point, we'll know what the next step is and we'll be able to comment on the matter."
On Friday, it appeared that Brown was the leading candidate for the job. With more than 1,000 career victories as a pro and college coach, with a national championship won at the University of Kansas, and with a well-earned reputation as a "Mr. Fix-it," Brown would have seemed to be the appropriate replacement for Guthridge, who guided the Tar Heels to two Final Four appearances in the last three seasons.
Tar Heels officials, however, appear to be entertaining another possibility, too. On Saturday, Notre Dame coach Matt Doherty, another Carolina alumnus, was in Chapel Hill, interviewing for the Tar Heels job. That was after Kansas coach Roy Williams turned down the job on Thursday. According to one source close to the situation, Carolina officials are high on Doherty.
It is believed that Smith is pushing for Brown partly out of loyalty to Phil Ford, a Carolina assistant coach.
Brown, at 59, is nearing the end of his coaching career. If Brown were to take the Carolina job, Ford, with a recent DUI charge further behind him, might be next in line when Brown retired. Doherty is only 38.
Brown has an undying devotion to Smith, but he is a sensitive man and would probably not feel comfortable going any place without unwavering support for his hiring. Because there are questions about whether he would have total support at Carolina from McCoy and Baddour on down, he might elect to stay in Philadelphia, where the bigger money is, despite issues with star guard Allen Iverson.