It was nearing midnight, the end of another long day that had brought him from Kansas to Washington and another team meal and another hotel. His eldest child, Kristin, already was asleep in the next room. His players, knowing their curfew was at hand, were settling into their rooms down the hall. Comforted by the notion that he was surrounded by family, Larry Brown sat in the dark and talked softly about the coaching jobs he'd walked away from the last few years -- the Denver Nuggets, UCLA, the New Jersey Nets -- and what his leaving had cost him.

"See, what I wanted to do more than anything," Brown leaned forward to say, "was to be the Olympic coach. Dave Gavitt chose me as an assistant in 1980 when I was at UCLA, but because of the boycott we never went to Moscow. Then, I left UCLA, you know. Now, I can't even get on a selection committee." His raccoon eyes grew frightfully wide, searching for justice. "I played on the team in 1964; I helped coach it in 1980; I've taken teams overseas before. Had I stayed at UCLA I think I'd have been in line, but" -- the sentence hangs there -- "It's never going to happen for me now, never."

Brown poured himself some soda, sipped once, twice, then put the glass down on the hotel table and closed his eyes so he wouldn't have to see the words he was about to say: "People probably think I'm a jerk; they probably think that something's wrong with me. Guys always look at me like, 'How could you leave those jobs?' "

Brown shrugged his shoulders. Maybe they're right.

How could he leave those jobs?

We've been through all this before. At Denver, it was a personality conflict with the general manager; at UCLA, it was financial (Brown wasn't earning enough money to buy a house, and felt humiliated because he was obliged to let alumni pay half his rent); at New Jersey, it was his sense of being an outsider, which sounded strange because he took a job close to New York City so he could finally come home.

"I think I've had good reasons to leave," he said.

But essentially, there has been only one reason why he has left where he did and when he did. In his heart -- and Brown listens to his heart first and his head second -- he thought he was not being loved enough. Somewhere in the basketball family, someone or something had turned on him. And Larry Brown was not patient about love and family. His track record says that when it was no longer perfect, he was no longer there.

In his heart, he knew there would be somewhere else to go.

When you are a basketball coach who always has had a winning record, always made the NBA playoffs or the NCAA tournament wherever you've stopped -- for as long as you've stopped there -- there always is.

So Brown won. And then Brown left.

And he went somewhere else. And he won. And he left again.

So it goes. So did he.

It wasn't that anyone faulted him for seeking happiness for himself and his family. But it was the pattern Brown's search had taken -- these sudden shifts and their untimely shocks -- that strained his credibility as a man of serious and lasting commitment.

At some point a man's reputation becomes as important as his credentials.

That time came for Brown when he left the Nets for Kansas last year.

To the surprise of some, he's still there. He coached the Jayhawks to yesterday's 76-70 win over George Washington, Brown's 72nd collegiate victory in 100 games.

"I don't think there's anything intrinsically wrong with wanting what you have to be special," he said as he unwrapped a cigar. "But maybe I haven't been realistic enough. Maybe I haven't understood that every place isn't perfect, that every place -- even the great ones -- have their drawbacks, and you have to make concessions."

He lit the cigar, took one puff, and waved the smoke away; waving away the criticism would not be as easy. "I'm proud of everything I've done in coaching, but I'm not proud of the way I'm perceived. It's especially troublesome because so much of what I teach has to do with caring about your teammates, working hard and being responsible. I know I've let people down at UCLA and the Nets, and that hurts me. But I can't do anything about that now."

He brought the cigar to his lips, thought better of it, and laid it down in the hotel ashtray. "When I came to Kansas, I made a commitment to the players, the school and to myself to stay; I had to do that because of the very question you're raising -- Can a recruit trust me when I talk about family and loyalty? So I made that commitment, that I would be at Kansas for five years, and that I'd make it work no matter what. I tell the kids right off, so they don't even have to ask about it. I promise them I'll do everything in my power every single day to make them the best possible players they can be, and that I'll help them get a good education so that they can leave here with some alternatives."

He opened up his hands. Nothing up his sleeves.

"I'm here," he said. "I'm not going anywhere."

He's 44 years old. "Don't you think it's about time people focused on my coaching, and not my leaving?"

Already, he could have had a contract extension but he declined. Not so he could leave, so he could stay.

"I want to finish what I have," he said, speaking clearly, emphatically, as much for his own ears as the public's. "My goal is to fulfill a commitment. I hope to see you then, and not have to answer why I left Kansas in two years."

He smiled. He said he felt good at Kansas, comfortable. Not at all like an outsider.

"The thing I kept hearing from the national media was, 'How can you go from L.A. and New York to Kansas?' But out there, they took it as a compliment. They felt like I could coach anywhere, and I picked them."

Larry Brown looked an old friend right in the eye and said, "I don't want to let them down. You know what I mean?" much of what I teach has to do with caring about your teammates, working hard and being responsible. I know I've let people down at UCLA and the Nets, and that hurts me. But I can't do anything about that now."

He brought the cigar to his lips, thought better of it, and laid it down in the hotel ashtray. "When I came to Kansas, I made a commitment to the players, the school and to myself to stay; I had to do that because of the very question you're raising -- Can a recruit trust me when I talk about family and loyalty? So I made that commitment, that I would be at Kansas for five years, and that I'd make it work no matter what. I tell the kids right off, so they don't even have to ask about it. I promise them I'll do everything in my power every single day to make them the best possible players they can be, and that I'll help them get a good education so that they can leave here with some alternatives."

He opened up his hands. Nothing up his sleeves.

"I'm here," he said. "I'm not going anywhere."

He's 44 years old. "Don't you think it's about time people focused on my coaching, and not my leaving?"

Already, he could have had a contract extension but he declined. Not so he could leave, so he could stay.

"I want to finish what I have," he said, speaking clearly, emphatically, as much for his own ears as the public's. "My goal is to fulfill a commitment. I hope to see you then, and not have to answer why I left Kansas in two years."

He smiled. He said he felt good at Kansas, comfortable. Not at all like an outsider.

"The thing I kept hearing from the national media was, 'How can you go from L.A. and New York to Kansas?' But out there, they took it as a compliment. They felt like I could coach anywhere, and I picked them."

Larry Brown looked an old friend right in the eye and said, "I don't want to let them down. You know what I mean?"