April 09, 2011

When Larry Brown was fired as head coach of the Charlotte Bobcats in late December, it was immediately clear that he didn't want his storied career to end on Michael Jordan's chopping block.

More than three months later, Brown, 70, is hoping against hope that his return takes place at UNLV.

Two sources close to Brown said he has been in contact with Runnin' Rebels athletic director Jim Livengood as recently as Wednesday about the position and is expecting to hear back soon, although his chances appear slim unless the process continues to stall. When reached by phone, Brown confirmed the contact with UNLV but declined to comment further.

Livengood has said publicly that he expects to choose between BYU associate head coach Dave Rice, former Sacramento Kings and New Mexico State coach Reggie Theus (now a Minnesota Timberwolves assistant), St. John's assistant Mike Dunlap and former Oregon coach Ernie Kent -- all of whom have interviewed for the position.

Rice and Theus are widely considered the finalists, but the sources said Brown's best bet at landing the position would come by way of the school's boosters. With Livengood believed to be leaning toward Rice and school president Neal Smatresk said to be backing Theus, there are boosters who are intrigued by the idea of adding a coach whose pedigree dwarfs that duo. Sources said Kentucky coach John Calipari called Livengood on Brown's behalf as well.

Brown, who is the only coach to win an NCAA and NBA championship, last coached collegiately when his Kansas Jayhawks won it all in 1988. His reputation for rebuilding took a serious hit during his one infamous season with the Knicks (2005-06).

But after being lured to Charlotte by Jordan, he took a team that had won 32 games the season before his arrival to 35 wins in 2008-09 then to 44 wins and a franchise-first playoff appearance last season. Brown was fired after a 9-19 start this season.

Yet Rice and Theus offer something Brown does not: a long history with the program. Before Rice spent 11 seasons as a UNLV assistant, he was a reserve guard on the Runnin' Rebels' 1989-90 national championship team as well as the 1990-91 squad that made it to the Final Four. Theus, meanwhile, is one of only six Rebels to have had his jersey retired for his three illustrious seasons spent at UNLV (1976-78). After a 13-year NBA career, he began coaching collegiately at Louisville for two seasons under Rick Pitino before taking over at New Mexico State, then led the Aggies to a 16-14 record and the NCAA tournament during the 2006-07 season after they had gone 6-24 the year prior. His team went 25-9 in 2006-07 in his final season with the Aggies, winning the Western Athletic Conference tournament before he was hired in Sacramento.

The UNLV job opened up when Lon Kruger unexpectedly bolted for Oklahoma earlier this month.

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