on July 7, 2007 by in Uncategorized, Comments (0)

Good to see Ellis back in coaching

Old college basketball coaches never die, they just return to resurrect smaller programs in need of a big name to guide them.

That obviously rings true in South Carolina where, for the second consecutive year, a former big-time college basketball coach, away for a period of several years, has returned to the game on a smaller, less pressurized level.

Last year, former Georgia Tech head coach Bobby Cremins, who led the Yellow Jackets to the 1990 NCAA Final Four, reemerged from a six-year hiatus to assume the reins at the College of Charleston and, on Tuesday, former Clemson basketball coach Cliff Ellis ended a three-year absence by accepting the Coastal Carolina position.

If the success Cremins enjoyed this past season can be used as a measuring stick, then Ellis should have plenty to look forward to in Conway. Last season, Cremins overcame a slow start by guiding the Cougars to a 20-plus win season and within a victory of the Southern Conference tournament title and automatic NCAA Tournament bid. Considering that Coastal Carolina finished with a 15-15 mark in 2006-’07, there is no reason not to believe that an Ellis-coached team couldn’t muster at least five more wins.

Although Clemson and USC will always garner primary media coverage due to their size and conference affiliation with the ACC and SEC, respectively, both Coastal Carolina and the College of Charleston deserve credit for luring two prominent names into their basketball programs. These individuals not only bring increased fan interest and, obviously, increased ticket sales, but also make it easier to attract recruits.

While many of today’s athletes are too young to remember Cremins and now Ellis, those with parents who follow sports, especially college basketball, remember the success these coaches achieved. That is important because parents play a pivotal role in the recruiting of any high school athlete.

I am excited to see Cliff Ellis back in coaching and back in an area he knows all too well. Despite being the school’s all-time winningest men’s basketball coach, with 177 victories during 10 years in Tigertown, I’ve always felt that Ellis and his achievements often went unappreciated by many Clemson fans.

True, the Tigers typically exited the ACC Tournament after the first round, but then again, that’s nothing new to Clemson basketball. Ellis did achieve one milestone that no Clemson men’s basketball coach has ever done before or since — win a regular season ACC championship, accomplished in 1990.

That banner hangs in Littlejohn Coliseum, along with the team’s 1939 Southern Conference championship and banners from various NCAA and NIT appearances.

Ellis also led the Tigers to eight postseason appearances in his 10 years as Clemson coach, including three NCAA Tournament trips. In 1990, The Tigers reached the Sweet 16 of the tourney and were within a last-second Tate George jumper from advancing to the Elite 8.

At Clemson, Ellis-coached teams that won 20 or more games twice, experienced only one losing season and one .500 season. The two-time ACC Coach of the Year in 1987 and 1990 also coached the likes of future NBA players Horace Grant, Dale Davis, Elden Campbell and Chris Whitney.

Probably Ellis’ best season came in 1986-87 when the Tigers roared to a 17-0 start before suffering a heartbreaking loss at home to Duke. The Tigers rebounded to finish 25-6, losing to Southwest Missouri State in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

While posting a sparkling 534-337 overall record, eight NCAA Tournament and 12 NIT appearances during a coaching career that began in 1973 at Cumberland University in Lebanon, Tennessee, Ellis has not been free from controversy.

The Tigers – both Clemson and Auburn, where he last coached – both came under NCAA scrutiny during his final years and Ellis’ firing at Auburn was in response to the school’s internal NCAA investigation.

But in a day and age when NFL players are given multiple chances to atone for misdeeds that are often criminal in nature, a 61-year-old coach who has given more than half of his life to the game of basketball should receive the same opportunity for redemption.

Although Ellis, in my opinion, isn’t the greatest Clemson men’s basketball coach in history – that honor belongs to Rick Barnes – there can be no denying that he did an excellent coaching job in his own right and that the 10 years spent here were filled with many more highs than lows.

He provided a boost to a Tiger basketball program badly in need of one – both in victories and in the excitement generated by crowds that flocked to Littlejohn Coliseum during the early years of his tenure.

Even though the Clemson men’s basketball program today is in excellent hands with Oliver Purnell, it is important to always remember those who played a hand in its past success, and Ellis was certainly one of those individuals.

During a press conference held to announce his hiring, the 61-year-old Ellis said his goal is to take the Coastal Carolina basketball program to the NCAA Tournament. Judging by his track record and renewed enthusiasm for coaching, I wouldn’t bet against him doing just that.