A Big Time Coach

To almost no one's surprise, head basketball coach Larry Shyatt resigned Monday afternoon. Simply put, his tenure at Clemson never quite lived up to expectations, and that should be even more of a reason to hire a coach that can come in and get the job done.

It's finally over.

It's been five years since the end of the Rick Barnes era and Clemson has yet to even come close to achieving the same success that was seen during his 4 years in Tiger Town.

Larry Shyatt may have said the right things, and Larry Shyatt may have even done a lot of right things, but no matter what he did it never translated into wins on the court.

Furthermore, his teams were almost painful to watch- staying close the first 30 minutes of the game before usually doing just enough to lose in some tragic way in the closing moments.

The frontcourt tandem of Chris Hobbs and Ray Henderson also never lived up to their potential and the Tigers' play seemed completely chaotic and without any sort of rhythm or direction.

While the team would open up with an 3-game ACC winning streak midway through the regular season, including a sweep of Virginia, it just wouldn't be enough to really convince anyone that the tide had ultimately turned.

Yet, before a new head coach is hired, before he'll even have the chance to turn things around, the nay sayers are already coming out of the woodwork.

Do I need to go ahead and line up the excuses right now? Here are a couple of my favorites that I'm sure you've become all too familiar with already.

"You can never win at Clemson in basketball."

"Clemson is a football school."

"Clemson is a school that resides in the country and it's hard to recruit the top players in the nation to a rural environment."

You know what I say to that, who cares?

Rick Barnes proved that you can build a successful basketball program here. He proved that Littlejohn Coliseum can create the same excitement that is seen every fall just down the street in Death Valley.
Go ahead and call me crazy, but for about three to four years back in the mid-1990's, Clemson was actually a basketball school.

Students camped out in line for tickets in the freezing cold to see home games against North Carolina and Duke. The Tigers also made a home among the top 15 teams in the country while going to the NCAA Tournament in three consecutive seasons.

But here we are at the crossroads of Clemson basketball once again. Here we are wondering what will be the fate of this program headed into the 2003-04 regular season.

Believe it or not, Larry Shyatt had some success on the recruiting trails, and it will now be up to the next coach to continue to build on what Shyatt has done.

ESPN.com's Andy Katz is already reporting several candidates to be under serious consideration.

Some of the names include Western Kentucky coach Dennis Felton, Dayton coach Oliver Purnell, former Hawks coach Lon Kruger and former Bulls coach Tim Floyd. Chattanooga head coach and former North Carolina Tar Heel Jeff Lebo could also be a candidate.

And while a lot of these coaches do have impressive credentials, go ahead and pencil me in as a Lon Kruger fan.

Kruger is a proven winner at the collegiate level that has turned around programs at Florida and Illinois in his 20+ years of coaching experience.

Furthermore, he makes his home right down the road in Atlanta- which unfortunately could make him a candidate for the job at Georgia should the Jim Harrick fiasco be taken care of quickly.

Regardless, in four years at Illinois, he finished with an 81-48 record (.628), and a 38-28 (.576) conference mark (including a Big Ten co-title in 1997-98).

Before taking over at Illinois, he spent six seasons in Gainesville, transforming the Florida Gators from a team that was not a factor in the Southeastern Conference race to a team that posted a school record 29 wins (1994) and went to postseason play four times.

Rebuilding a program that finished 7-21 the year before he took over (1989-90), Kruger led the Gators to postseason competition in four of his six seasons, including the Final Four in 1994.

To me, someone like Lon Kruger or even Tim Floyd gives the Clemson basketball program several things it's been missing in the last few years.

One, it gives the Tigers a big-name coach that has NBA experience. Having a coach of that kind of caliber certainly wouldn't hurt with some of the in-state recruits that usually make their way up to tobacco road.
Two, it puts fans in the seats and will help generate more excitement next year than what we've seen in any season since 1997.

Three, it lets people know that Clemson University is serious about it's basketball program. I mean honestly, you hate to say this but how many of you were excited when Larry Shyatt was named the head basketball coach 5 years ago?

At the same time, I can understand someone making a case for Dennis Felton. He's done some remarkable things at Western Kentucky, including leading the Hilltoppers to the NCAA Tournament in each of the last three seasons.

The 2001-02 Sun Belt Conference Coach-of-the-Year also was assistant coach under Rick Barnes and has ties to the program.

But for once, just once, I hope that Clemson University at least looks at some of the big names out there.

There's no reason why Tiger basketball can't make a run at the NCAA Tournament every single year, and a guy like Lon Kruger would probably be the coach that get this team to that level the fastest.

Even playing in the ACC, there's simply no reason why Clemson basketball can't compete for a NCAA Tournament berth year-in and year-out.

There's nothing quite like March Madness, and it's even more exciting when your team actually has a chance to advance and make some noise in the national spotlight.

It's just too bad that Clemson fans have had already had to wait for 5 seasons to experience that thrill all over again.

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