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Did You Know That: Famed LSU coach a North Dakota success story

A man considered one of the greatest college basketball coaches in the nation was born and raised in Minot, N.D. During Dale Brown's tenure at Louisiana State University from 1972 to 1997, he often guided teams made up of no-name players to excel...

A man considered one of the greatest college basketball coaches in the nation was born and raised in Minot, N.D. During Dale Brown's tenure at Louisiana State University from 1972 to 1997, he often guided teams made up of no-name players to excel well beyond expectations.

When Brown arrived at LSU, the team had only four winning seasons in 19 years. He completely turned things around to where his teams were awarded NCAA tournament invitations in over half of the seasons of which he was coach. One of Brown's "name players" that he groomed into becoming a superstar was Shaquille O'Neal.

Dale Duward Brown was born in Minot on Oct. 31, 1935, to Charles and Agnes Marie (Hennessy) Brown. Charles was a tenant farmer who went broke from crop failures due to the early to mid-1930s being some of the driest years on record, a period known as the "Dirty Thirties." With these crop failures, many farmers left the area, and Brown was one of them. Unable to support his wife, two young daughters and a third child on the way, Charles, through apparent desperation, abandoned his family at the time of Dale's birth.

To survive, Agnes got a small, cheap apartment over a Minot tavern and did her best to raise three children. On Feb. 28, 1997, Sen. Kent Conrad addressed the U.S. Congress, stating that it was her "strength of character and persistence in the face of great poverty that kept the family together." As soon as Dale was old enough, he began working outside the home to help the family pay bills. Besides going to school and working, he was able to find some time to participate in sports.

Dale attended St. Leo's High School in Minot, where he excelled in football, basketball and track. "During his senior season, he posted the highest scoring average in state basketball history and also set a school record in the quarter mile." Following graduation from St. Leo's in 1953, it became his dream to attend college and become a teacher and coach. Brown attended Minot State Teachers College, "where he was a star athlete, earning 12 varsity letters in football, basketball, and track." He also worked part-time, helping construct the Minot Air Force Base.


Brown graduated in 1957 and accepted the position as head high school coach in basketball, wrestling, and track in Columbus, N.D. In 1958, St. Leo's closed down and was replaced by a new parochial high school in Minot called Bishop Ryan. In 1959, Brown returned to Minot to take the position of head basketball coach and assistant football coach at this new Catholic high school.

A year later, he was joined at Bishop Ryan by a new football coach who would also serve as Brown's assistant basketball coach. His name was Ron Erhardt, later the head coach at North Dakota State University and for the New England Patriots of the National Football League.

Often, the teams that Bishop Ryan opposed on the court were bigger and, frankly, more talented. To counteract this, Brown designed a defensive strategy that totally confused the opposing team. He called this strategy the "Freak Defense." On cues given by Brown, his players would shift formations so that the opposing players couldn't figure out who was guarding whom. The Freak Defense gained national recognition in 1986 when his unranked LSU college team knocked off several major powers in the NCAA tournament to advance to the Final Four.

Brown had to take a leave of absence during the 1961-62 season when he was called to active Army duty because of the Berlin Crisis. The Soviet Union began building a wall to separate west Berlin from the Soviet-controlled eastern section of that city, and American military leaders feared that war could break out between the world's two superpowers. While in the Army, Brown served as head basketball and track coach at Fort Riley, Kan.

Brown coached two more years at Bishop Ryan, while also taking graduate classes at the University of Oregon. He received his master's degree in 1964, and then spent two years in California - the first as a junior high school basketball coach in Berkeley, and the second as the head coach at Palm Springs High School.

Brown was an assistant coach at Utah State for five years and then held a similar position at Washington State for one year. Meanwhile, LSU had gone through a long period of drought, not receiving an NCAA tournament invitation since 1954. The athletic department may have believed they had solved the tournament famine in 1966 when they received a signed letter of intent from Pete Maravich, the top high school basketball player in the nation. A big factor in getting the hoopster to enroll at LSU was the fact that, at the same time, they hired his father, Press Maravich, to be the head basketball coach. Still, LSU continued to have losing records as a basketball team.

In 1972, Brown was hired to take over head coaching duties at LSU. The new coach immediately went to work to build an interest in LSU basketball in Louisiana. "As soon as he was hired he started traveling the state and giving out (basketball) nets." Wherever basketball events would take place, "he would stop and introduce himself as the new coach at LSU and hand out nets." It worked, as many state sports fans, players, and coaches were now attuned to Brown, LSU and the school's basketball program. Next would come the hard part of putting together a winning basketball team.

Check back next week for the second installment on Brown.


“Did You Know That” is written by Curt Eriksmoen and edited by Jan Eriksmoen of Fargo. Send your suggestions for columns, comments or corrections to the Eriksmoens at: cjeriksmoen@cableone.net .

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