Early on, the theme of a documentary focused on former LSU basketball coach Dale Brown is laid out in front of viewers, raw and impossible to mistake. Fitting, because that’s how the 76-year-old North Dakotan has lived his life: out front and there for everybody to see.
As 64 teams battle for supremacy in this month’s March Madness, relive the ups and downs of the Tigers’ longtime basketball legend in Man in the Glass: The Dale Brown Story, a production of EyeLine Films. The documentary was released last fall and is available now on DVD. Gannon Weaver and Patrick Sheehan produced the captivating glimpse at Brown, who guided the Tigers for 25 years with very few days devoid of drama.
If it’s a history of LSU basketball you’re after, though, that’s not what Weaver and Sheehan offer up.
Instead, it’s the inside story of Brown—the gregarious, outspoken man whose life is and always been built around that aforementioned theme.
“I’ve tried to be a person who tried to do right and stand up to injustice,” Brown says matter-of-factly in the first few minutes of the 83-minute biopic, which is at times riveting, at other times informative and entertaining from start to finish.
The topics range wildly, from his formative years to a microcosm of Brown’s nearly 40-year life in Louisiana as an outspoken and in-your-face defender of anybody who needs defending.
Whether it was Brown’s emotional defense of 7-foot-2 Shaquille O’Neal at the 1992 SEC Tournament, his work to get prison inmate Ulysses Long justice from the Louisiana legal system and parole from Angola Prison, a very public showdown with the NCAA over dying Tiger Mark Alcorn in 1981 or flashing back to standing up for his mother, Agnes, against an unfriendly welfare worker, the man who established LSU as a basketball power was at his best when he was fighting a battle for somebody.
“What you see in those 83 minutes is Dale Brown in a nutshell,” longtime LSU associate media relations director Kent Lowe says.
“It was Dale being Dale: defending one of his players or somebody else who needed him or who he thought needed him. He always defended his players, good, bad and indifferent. You saw a lot of what has been Dale’s life—fighting for the underdog.”
Or as New York Times bestselling author Don Yeager says in the film, “Dale Brown wakes up itching for a fight on behalf of someone else.”
Two other dominant relationships in Brown’s life are prominent in the documentary: his affection for college coaching legend John Wooden and his contentious and perpetual battle with the NCAA.
A handful of touching scenes show Brown and Wooden at a Los Angeles diner just months before the UCLA legend’s death in 2010. The man Brown said was his surrogate father and life mentor says in the film, “I took a liking to Dale right away.”
When Brown saw the final version of the film, he said the scenes with him and Wooden stirred his emotions and “brought a warmth that took over me, a pondering of ‘Wow, what if I had a dad? What would’ve that been like.’”
Brown said, “I think Coach Wooden had fun doing it. I knew how much I loved him before then, but watching that, I really realized the depth of my love for him.”
Brown directs very different feelings at the NCAA.
From the time of Alcorn’s battle with testicular cancer, which prompted an in-depth investigation, Brown and the NCAA clashed over and over—the coach famously saying “I have not followed every NCAA rule, and they know that,” and the NCAA refusing to go away until Brown’s program was placed in 1997 under one of the most severe probationary periods in college sports history.
“I was glad the part about the NCAA was in the movie,” Brown says. “It’s important to me that one thing I’ll be remembered for is to standing up them like I did.”
No problem there, Yeager says.
“Dale is from the Rosa Parks school of public relations,” he says in the film. “If you find a rule they created that’s unjust, don’t just break it, but make sure everybody knows you broke it.”
Today, just as he is portrayed in the movie, Brown doesn’t shy away from things he did wrong and never professes to have been a perfect angel during his time as the P.T. Barnum of LSU hoops from 1972 to 1997. But just like then, he did what he did for a reason.
With a cause that he fought for the only way he knew how: full steam ahead.
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