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One Way or Another, Brown Out With Spurs

January 22, 1992|SCOTT HOWARD-COOPER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SAN ANTONIO — Larry Brown, supposedly fired and then rehired as coach of the San Antonio Spurs within hours Monday, was fired for good Tuesday.

Sort of.

Brown, given the option of quitting, said he would not resign. But after skipping a scheduled morning meeting with Spur management, including owner Red McCombs, he asked to be fired.

So the Spurs claim. Brown and his agent, Joe Glass, maintain that Brown was canned, plain and simple.

Even for Brown, who had seemingly brought instability to an art form during his 20 seasons as coach of six college and pro teams, this scenario was bizarre. The semantics of his departure might be traced to the Spurs' still owing him the final season and a half on a five-year, $3.5-million deal.

Bob Bass, the team's vice president of basketball operations, replaced Brown on an interim basis beginning with Tuesday night's victory over the Clippers. McCombs said at a morning news conference that current assistant Gregg Popovich, the coach at Pomona Pitzer for eight years before leaving to join Brown's staff, will be considered during the summer for the permanent post.

Bass, the Spurs' coach on three previous occasions and a member of the organization for 18 seasons, couldn't hide his surprise at the developments.

"I thought (Brown) would stay on as late as 10 o'clock (Tuesday) morning," Bass said at the news conference, later adding: "I never thought Larry would not be here today."

Bass' reaction to the events of Monday and Tuesday were appropriate for the situation: Clouded.

"I don't know if I have one (a reaction)," he said. "I'm kind of numb at this point."

But ready and excited to take over?

"I think I would like to answer that in a few days," he said.

Clearly, this was not an overwhelming start to his fourth term as coach. The Spurs were already seven games behind last season's 55-victory pace and in second place behind the Utah Jazz in the Midwest Division. Now this, the confusion as thick as the rain clouds on a gloomy day.

Brown, in an interview with the San Antonio Express-News, said: "I'm kind of confused by it. I met with Red and I thought I was terminated. He didn't flat-out say it. He said he thought he had to make a change. So I told Pop (Popovich) and R.C. (Buford, another assistant coach) I thought we had been fired.

"I did not ask to be terminated. I was terminated. . . . But the bottom line, again, is that I felt after the meeting with Red that the man did not want me around."

That would have been the Monday meeting, which set the events in motion. According to local accounts, Brown left McCombs and went to a late-morning team meeting . . . but the subject of Brown's apparent firing never came up.

McCombs arrived at HemisFair Arena to learn of the lengthy clear-the-air session by the players and coaches, and began to have second thoughts about the firing. By late Monday afternoon, McCombs went so far as to tell the San Antonio Light that Brown's job was not in jeopardy and his future was not under evaluation.

That night, Brown decided he was staying. David Robinson, Terry Cummings and Sean Elliott, three of the most influential players, reportedly called the coach to ask him to stay, even though Robinson has said several times that he has a "communication problem" with Brown.

In the end, Brown was gone, all three assistant coaches were retained, and Bass had a new title and two job responsibilities. Everyone else was left to try to figure out how all this happened.

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