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Higher, faster, farther


photo by Allen Einstein

Coaching Pro
by Jon Reidel

Herb Brown ’57 couldn’t wait any longer. He had to find out if he was good enough to play basketball for his new school. The incoming freshman had foregone scholarship offers from Rider, High Point, and Brandeis on the gamble that he could make it as a non-scholarship player on longtime Catamount coach John C. ‘Fuzzy’ Evans’s team.

The decision to bring his game to Burlington was made after attending a summer camp with Vermont stars Earl “The Duck” Steinman ’55 and Keith Jampolis ’55. The future UVM Athletic Hall of Famers convinced Brown that Vermont was a great place to go to school and play basketball.

The day he arrived on campus, the 5-foot-10 guard from Long Island laced up his sneakers and headed over to UVM’s basketball proving ground — a popular outdoor court behind Old Mill. To his surprise, three scholarship freshmen from the class of ’57 — Arthur ‘Skip’ Burkhardt, Wilbur Mann, and Richard Dennis — were already there.

“They asked me who I was and if I was on scholarship. I said no, but that I wanted to walk on,” recalls Brown. “I wasn’t a great player, but after we played for a while, I felt like I could play with them. I was a left-handed playmaker who couldn’t shoot a lick, although I wasn’t as bad a shooter as Dennis Rodman (whom Brown later coached in Detroit).”

Though earning a spot on the UVM team would be a shining moment for Herb Brown as a player, his greatest achievements in the game have been as a coach. Over the course of some 50 seasons in the sport, he has risen to the highest levels, including the 2004 NBA Championship he helped bring to Detroit as an assistant coach under his brother Larry Brown.

Although many were surprised by Detroit’s dismantling of the Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA finals, Brown says he felt like the pieces were in place after acquiring Rasheed Wallace from Atlanta. The 4-1 series blowout gave Brown another championship ring to go along with the ones he earned as a scout for Chicago in 1992 and 1993, during Michael Jordan’s first reign.

In July, less than one month after the championship, Brown continued his travels as an NBA journeyman by accepting an offer from newly hired Hawks Coach Mike Woodson, a fellow assistant under Larry Brown in Detroit, to be his top assistant. Atlanta will be Brown’s seventh NBA employer, following stops in Houston, Phoenix, Indiana, Chicago, Philadelphia, and Detroit.

“It’s like selling real estate,” Brown says. “It’s all about location, location, location. You’ve got to be in the right place at the right time. I’ve been very fortunate.”

Ironically, being an NBA coach wasn’t Brown’s goal after graduating from UVM. After spending time in the Army and earning a master’s degree in education from Yeshiva University, he entered the coaching ranks in 1960 as an assistant at C.W. Post.

Four years later, he started the basketball program at Stony Brook University, now an America East rival of UVM. Another well-known Vermont alum, Rollie Massimino ’56, followed Brown as head coach there, 14 years before he would lead Villanova to the 1985 NCAA Championship.

“I got a good foundation at UVM,” says Brown, who stays in touch with his college roommates and fraternity brothers from Phi Sigma Delta. “It was a great place with great professors, great academics and great students. You knew everyone. I made some lifelong friends. It was four of the best years I ever spent.”

Brown’s career has also taken him around the globe, and some of his fondest coaching memories are from places like Spain, Puerto Rico, Pakistan, and Israel. He took the Israel Sabres, a team that included former Celtic M.L. Carr, to the European Professional Basketball League championship in 1975. These experiences helped Brown realize that he doesn’t have to be in the NBA to be happy, as long as he is teaching young men about life and the game he loves.

“There are only 29 teams in the NBA and I’ve been very fortunate to have worked for some of them,” says Brown, whose third book, tentatively titled Let’s Talk Defense, comes out this year from McGraw-Hill. “But it can be just as rewarding coaching at other levels. I love what I do. I want to keep coaching on this level as long as I can. I don’t think I’d make a very good retiree.”

Brown reached basketball’s highest level in 1976 when he became head coach of the Detroit Pistons. Despite leading the Pistons to back-to-back playoff appearances for the first time in franchise history, he was fired after two seasons.

“It was a devastating thing at the time,” says Brown, known as a great defensive coach with a knack for developing overachieving teams. “But rejection is part of the business. It increased my resolve. You just have to find a different way to get to where you want to be.”


photo by Bill DiLillo


Cormier’s Homecoming
The scene on the television had Jesse Cormier ’95 mesmerized. The image of 6,000 screaming fans crammed into Centennial Field for the first round of the NCAA men’s soccer tournament was working its way into the permanent memory of the high school junior from Hoosick Falls, New York.

It was at that moment in 1989, with the nationally-ranked Catamounts in the process of defeating UConn on their way to a record 19-win season and a berth in the national quarterfinals, that Cormier made his college decision. “After seeing that spectacle on television with the fans lining the trees, it became my dream to play for UVM,” he recalls.

With that dream long since realized, Cormier is chasing a new one as head coach of the team he played for from 1991 to 1994: to make magical seasons like 1989 a common occurrence.

“This is home for me; these are my people,” says Cormier, who is making his UVM coaching debut this fall. “I’d like to bring back that kind of success, that special feeling that a season like that creates. I have the blueprint and the support of the administration to make it happen. But the first thing we have to do is to bring back the belief. The players have to have faith in themselves and each other.”

Inspiration and faith notwithstanding, Cormier knows winning won’t come without quality athletes. He assembled two nationally ranked recruiting classes as head recruiter at Oregon State and helped guide the Beavers to a top 20 national ranking and first-ever NCAA tournament appearances in 2002 and another in 2003.

“I feel very confident that we can do the same thing here,” says Cormier, who credits former UVM coach Ron McEachen with much of his success. “We’re bringing in some of the best kids in the nation.”

Equally impressive, Cormier served as academic liaison for an OSU team that posted an overall grade-point average of 3.11 and put five players on the Pac-10 All-Academic Team.

“At the end of the day, I’m just an employee whose job is to make sure these student-athletes grow in every way possible. When I talk to parents, I say, ‘This is where they are now and this is where they will be in four years. Everything is here for them to be successful.”

Cormier, who played professionally in both Europe and the United States after graduating from UVM, says he intends to measure success in terms of effort rather than the final score, which he says will take care of itself if the established level of effort is met.

“There’s no team out there that scares me,” says Cormier, who frequently mentions his wife, Amy, son, Kai, and daughter, Parrish, as sources of strength. “On the same token we respect everyone we play. I feel strongly that student-athletes will want to come here when they see how supportive the community is and what we have to offer. This is a very special place, and they will feel that just like I did as a player.”