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Jim Brandenburg keeps mum on Wyoming departure
Apr 1, 2012 - By Bob Hammond, Laramie Boomerang
LARAMIE -- Jim Brandenburg leaves the University of Wyoming for San Diego State.
Exactly 25 years ago today (March 24, 1987) that message came through, sending shockwaves that would reverberate through Cowboys basketball for years to come.
Not only was it a shock; it was totally unexpected.
Twenty-five years later Brandenburg remains quiet about it.
"It wouldn't do anyone any good to get into that now; it's not worth bringing up," said the 76-year-old, who has long since retired from coaching and now lives in Austin, Texas. "All I will say now is it was not a good decision on my part, and it's proof that you don't make decisions when you are mad.
"I probably stayed there as long as I could; my shelf life was getting short. It was time to move and get to a bigger city to recruit. I'll just leave it at that."
How could a coach that built UW into one of the top programs in the Western Athletic Conference and a recognizable national entity pack his bags and head to California to take over a San Diego State program that had won only 14 of its previous 58 games, including a school-record 17-game losing streak?
That question was even bigger, knowing that UW was coming off back-to-back seasons of 24-12 and 24-10 - a pair of campaigns that included a spot in the NIT championship game in Madison Square Garden followed by an appearance in the NCAA Sweet 16 in Seattle.
Added was the fact that Brandenburg would have had eight players returning from those teams, including future UW Hall of Famers Fennis Dembo and Eric Leckner.
So why did Brandenburg leave? Was it money, the allure of the California sunshine and the quality of life in San Diego or was it the challenge of rebuilding a down-trodden program?
Or was there more to it than that?
A quarter of a century later, there are still no answers, only conjecture.
What is known is that back then San Diego State athletics director Fred Miller met with Brandenburg during the Sweet 16 weekend in Seattle.
Shortly thereafter, Brandenburg was offered a five-year contract by Miller, and San Diego State had called a news conference for Tuesday (March 24) to "announce the hiring of a new basketball coach."
UW officials got wind of the press conference, and then-athletics director Paul Roach held a lengthy meeting with Brandenburg the night before.
"I mentioned to him that I was aware of a press conference to be held at SDSU," Roach told the San Diego Union at the time. "He acknowledged that but said it didn't have to be. I got the feeling he may not go. I know now that it isn't about money."
Whether it was money or not, the next day Brandenburg was off to San Diego State, where his yearly salary doubled from $75,000 to $150,000.
"That has always been an unanswered situation involving him," Roach said this week from his winter home in Arizona. "I couldn't pinpoint the real reason why he left.
"Maybe he just needed a change; I don't think there was any particular reason or dislike (for UW). He didn't indicate anything to me specifically, and I couldn't say specifically if it was a case of money."
Brandenburg, who most likely would have been inducted into the Wyoming Athletics Hall of Fame the first year he became eligible following the required five-year waiting period after he left UW (1992), had to wait until 2000 before he finally got that call.
"The way I left had a lot to do with that I'm sure," he said. "I think people were very disappointed when I left and were somewhat frustrated as to why I would leave. I can certainly understand that. There are still a certain number of people who are frustrated."
Things never worked out at San Diego State like Brandenburg envisioned.
After never experiencing a losing season in two years at Montana (39-16) and nine years at UW (176-97), he had five straight losing seasons and a record of 52-87 with the Aztecs before he was fired.
"It was a big mistake," he said. "There were a lot of promises made and none of them kept.
"They promised new facilities. My office was in a house across the street from campus. The only place we had to practice was Peterson Gym, and it was shared among men's basketball, women's basketball, women's volleyball, physical education classes and intramurals.
"We beat a couple of Top 20 teams my first year, and the student body voted for an activities fee to build a new facility. Immediately the people around the university got a court injunction, saying that we hadn't done a proper environmental study.
"So it took eight or nine years before (Cox Arena, which is now the Viejas Arena at the Aztec Bowl) was built (in 1997). The minute that started, it spelled my doom."
Brandenburg also said he made a mistake by thinking he could build SDSU with a freshman-based program like he did at UW instead of looking for immediate fixes.
"(Current San Diego State coach Steve) Fisher came in and did what I now realize that I should have done," he said. "He takes junior college players, four-year transfers and kids out of Southern California who bounce back.
"That's his modus operandi. That's the way it always has been at San Diego State, and I misread that. The thing is, I probably wouldn't have taken the job if I had thought that way."
Brandenburg joined the private sector in the San Diego area after leaving SDSU. He became the president and operated Global Tech Industries, a company dealing with electronics.
When it came time for retirement, he and his wife, Jan (who died in 2009), moved to Austin, Texas, so they could be close to their daughters, Gay and Shannon, and their grandchildren.
Soon after he arrived in Austin, Brandenburg became associated with the Big 12 Conference. His job was to observe and grade officials during Big 12 games in Austin. He did that for seven years before going into full retirement.
All along the way, Brandenburg stayed active in the National Association of Basketball Coaches. He went through all the chairs and was on the group's board of advisers. He's now a lifetime member of the organization.
Recently, he was involved in getting UW basketball legend Kenny Sailors elected to the College Basketball Hall of Fame.
Even though he is fully retired, Brandenburg still finds time to mentor young Austin kids in the finer points of basketball.
"Once a coach always a coach," he added with a laugh.
The Brandenburg file
Current residence: Austin, Texas
Family: Married to Jan (deceased 2009). Three children: son, Bart, who now lives in Seattle where he sells commercial insurance and is the boys basketball coach at Roosevelt High; and two daughters, Gay Wimmer, who lives in Colleyville, Texas, and is a stay-at-home mom with two children, and Shannon Bui, who lives in Austin, Texas, and is the supervisor of the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at St. David's Hospital and has two children.
Hobbies: Golf, travel and keeping up with basketball
UW years: 1979-87
UW sports: Men's basketball coach
UW highlights: Had nine straight winning seasons with a record of 176-97. Won three Western Athletic Conference championships. Guided Cowboys to the 1986 NIT title game and to the 1987 NCAA Sweet 16. His UW teams led the WAC in total defense six times. Three-time WAC Coach of the Year (1981-82-86) and the NCAA Division I District 13 Coach of the Year (1986). Four of his UW players n Charles Bradley, Bill Garnett, Fennis Dembo and Eric Leckner were NBA first-round picks.