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Dale Brown

When Everyone is Watching…
They embrace the idea of being a role model

It is officially called the NCAA Men’s Division I Basketball Championship Tournament. But for most of us, it’s simply known as March Madness.

And what puts the madness into March? It is the opportunity for teams no one expects to win to suddenly go on a tear and challenge for the national title. Only twice in the history of this tournament has a team seeded 11th managed to find its way into the Final Four. One of those occasions was three years ago when George Mason University made a miraculous run through the tournament.

But the first time that ever happened was when the team at Louisiana State University, likely the last team invited to play in the tournament in 1986, beat three of that season’s best teams — Kentucky, Memphis State and Georgia Tech — to play in the tournament’s Final Four.

The man that encouraged LSU’s collection of undersized Tigers to believe they could win was Dale Brown. In 100 years of playing basketball at LSU, most consider this the greatest coaching job ever as Brown’s team overcame injuries, illness and suspensions to stun pundits and opponents.

They shouldn’t have been surprised, because Dale Brown had a lifetime record of teaching — and learning — his best when playing the role of underdog.

Brown was born in Minot, ND where he and his mother Agnes lived in a one-room apartment. His father left them two days before Dale was born. Yet, despite the fact that she was a single mother working and living on welfare, Agnes, on more than one occasion, went into the frigid North Dakota temperatures to return extra change a grocery store clerk had given her by accident.

Two lessons from his childhood would go on to shape Dale Brown’s entire life. From his pathologically honest mother, he gained a heightened sense of integrity. From his father’s abandonment, he came to value loyalty above all else.

dale2Agnes Brown became an extraordinary role model for Dale and, in turn, he would become a stand-up role model for others. To this day, players like Shaquille O’Neal and John Williams say “unquestioned integrity” was the greatest lesson they ever learned from Coach Brown.

Honesty and loyalty are still the two words that most accurately describe the winningest coach in LSU basketball history. In a world full of scandal, gambling and steroids, Dale Brown has always focused on doing what he believed was right.

He wasn’t afraid to tell people that was going to be his standard, either. In 1972, when Brown, a little known assistant coach at Washington State, was called to interview for the head coaching position at LSU, he sat before the interview committee and said:

“I think you should know before you interview me that I am not going to be dictated by a kid’s ethnic status, color, or religion. I’m recruiting human beings first and basketball players second. It makes no difference to me what they look like. That’s the way I operate.”

People said he was crazy for declaring he would aggressively integrate an LSU basketball program that had only one black player by 1972. But Dale Brown got the job and he stayed true to his principals. He built, from the ground up, a basketball program at a football school, and he continued to be the same role model when everyone was watching throughout his 25-year career at LSU.

Tips from the Great Ones

dale3Forget Charles Barkley and his famous line, “I am not a role model.” We are all role models to somebody. Understanding that others are watching your every step, while at the same time choosing paths of their own, is the greatest burden one can carry.

Greatness cannot be found in a win-at-all-costs approach. Dale Brown led by example. He taught life lessons, and he proved to everyone watching – even in the dog-eat-dog world of college basketball – you don’t have to sacrifice your morals to be successful.


Honesty and loyalty will translate into longevity and success for anyone in any field, but more importantly, they are qualities that can influence others and make a difference in people’s lives.

“The supreme quality for leadership is unquestionably integrity,” Dwight D. Eisenhower once said. “Without it, no real success is possible, no matter whether it is on a section gang, a football field, in an army, or in an office.”

dale4Dale Brown had an athletic director at LSU that supported his philosophy and encouraged him to stay his course. Find those kinds of people to work for, then be that person of integrity in your office. Stay true to yourself, and in doing so, be a role model to your children, your colleagues and your community.

Taking risks and working for a competitive advantage doesn’t mean taking short cuts. Your integrity is worth more than anything you’ve got. More often than not, it’s the foundation of your best sales pitch.

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About Don Yaeger

Don Yaeger

Don Yaeger is a Certified Speaking Professional (CSP), longtime Associate Editor for Sports Illustrated, 11-time New York Times best-selling author, leadership expert and executive coach.

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