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A New Life for the Farmer in the Dell : Ex-UCLA Coach Finds the Only Shadows Now Are From the Mountains

November 29, 1986|GORDON MONSON | Times Staff Writer

OGDEN, Utah — It took Larry Farmer--remember him?--two months to syllogize that what he wanted more than anything in life was to coach college basketball. He just didn't want to do it at UCLA. Not anymore. Fifteen years of overindulged Pauley, as a player, assistant and, finally, head coach, had wrung Farmer out. He had given, he said, all he could.

And still, that left them wanting. So he left.

On a Monday morning in March of 1984, 72 hours after he signed a three-year contract extension with the Bruins, he chucked it, and retreated full throttle to his parents' home in Denver. He was safe there. He had the Rocky Mountains between him and a passion that had eventually turned into a job.

Even though Farmer has never detailed his reasons for leaving, he says the pressures of coaching at a school that had seen the glory of championships perhaps too often ran him off, just as they had others before.

"I was no longer having fun," he says now. "Even though I won 60 games, we had some tough times. When you look at the expectations, it's too tough. When I left, it was like someone took a tremendous weight off my shoulders. But I wasn't naive. There were three other people who I'd seen the same thing happen to." The three were Gene Bartow, Gary Cunningham and Larry Brown.

One day, Farmer had one of the most prestigious jobs in college basketball and the next, he was unemployed, fishing in a stream in Colorado, wondering what to do with his life.

He worked for a time as an analyst on Denver Nuggets telecasts. And he traveled around the Northwest, from Butte, Mont., to Seattle, speaking at basketball camps and clinics, where boys wanted to know more than anything what it was like to play and coach at UCLA.

When Farmer came home to Los Angeles, he didn't do much of anything except, he says, "spend a lot of my time going over game films of old UCLA games."

As the weeks went by, he was convinced he wanted to coach again. In the following months, Farmer's name was connected with numerous coaching openings, but four colleges in particular went after him: Idaho State, Hawaii, Loyola Marymount and Weber State.

In March of 1985, Weber State hired Farmer.

Two question comes to mind. The second is, "Why on God's earth would the former coach of UCLA want to work at Weber (pronounced Wee-ber) State?" The first question is, "What is Weber State?"

Basically, Weber is a school of about 10,000 students located at the foot of the Wasatch Mountains on the edge of this northern Utah community, which happens to take basketball quite seriously. Last year, the Wildcats outdrew UCLA. It is a member of the Big Sky Conference and, surprisingly, Weber State has managed to build a decent, though obscure, basketball tradition.

Two former Weber coaches went on to win National Basketball Assn. Coach of the Year honors, Dick Motta, currently the coach of the Dallas Mavericks, and Phil Johnson, coach of the Sacramento Kings.

Why would Farmer want to coach here?

For the same reasons he left UCLA. Ironically, Weber State, by virtue of its relative obscurity, offered him what Westwood couldn't--an opportunity to coach at a school just out of the spotlight, but by no means off stage. It offered a program he could build and take credit for building.

Motta and Johnson were fine coaches who left stellar records behind, but their accomplishments almost are forgotten, while John Wooden's have grown to legendary and burdensome proportions.

If Farmer could take Weber State to the NCAA Tournament, that would be nothing new. But if he led the Wildcats to, say, the final round of 16, he would be a hero in Ogden. And a bit of a genius to college basketball observers around the country.

Farmer admits as much. "At UCLA, there was nothing I could do that hadn't already been done," he says. "For the first time, I'm in a program that can grow with me and I can grow with it. I'm in a situation where I can do some firsts. I want to feel I'm wanted. I want to feel if I'm doing a good job, people will want me to stay."

In short, Farmer wants to do at Weber State what Bartow has done at Alabama-Birmingham, lift a program into the nation's consciousness.

And Weber State players, administrators and supporters can hardly wait. Says Athletic Director Gary Crompton: "When I interviewed him, there was no question that we had to have him. Farmer can do some things for us that others couldn't do.

"He can recruit kids that in the past haven't been excited about coming here. And because he's well-known, he can bring us recognition we haven't had. I think he can take us a couple of steps farther than we've been able to go in the past."

Translation: Farmer can bring to a mostly white-and-Mormon area some black athletes who normally might visit Utah only if the other 49 states were flooded.

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