Winthrop assistant has history with new Clemson coach

klyles@heraldonline.comApril 16, 2010 

The life of a college basketball coach, head or assistant, is largely governed by the philosophical "six degrees of separation" concept. In their world, any coach can be linked through his or her career to any other coach within six steps. That way of thinking gets the rumor mill spinning with the inevitability of coaching changes each spring.

So here's one of the latest thoughts.

Clemson just hired Brad Brownell as its head coach. Brownell was at Wright State and before that he was the coach at UNC Wilmington. Winthrop assistant coach Marty McGillan spent five seasons with Brownell, four at UNCW and one at Wright State.

McGillan's relationship with Brownell is solid. Enough so that when Winthrop went to Dayton, Ohio to play the opening round game of the NCAA tournament last month against Arkansas-Pine Bluff, McGillan called Brownell and arranged to have the Eagles practice at nearby Wright State.

Spin.

As soon as Brownell accepted the Clemson job, Billy Donlon, was named head coach at Wright State. Donlon was Brownell's top assistant.

Whirl.

McGillan's cell phone was abuzz on Tuesday with the Brownell announcement; he counted 119 text messages. The texts continue to clog his inbox. They are coming from friends and colleagues. The thinking for some is that McGillan will be getting a call from Brownell to become an assistant at Clemson.

People are saying "obviously you are going to Clemson" McGillan said Thursday after working out junior forward Charles Corbin at the Winthrop Coliseum.

Other texts suggest McGillan is headed back to Wright State to work for Donlon. Some coaches have gone so far to ask for McGillan's help to get in with Eagles' head coach Randy Peele to fill the team's not-yet vacant assistant coaching position - McGillan's job.

"The movement of coaches is exciting but people forget the human element," McGillan said.

People get hired, fired, retired or otherwise left without work.

When McGillan was an assistant at the College of Charleston he worked for head coach John Kresse. When Kresse retired, McGillan was out of work. He was driving up to Radford for an interview on the day Brownell was to be announced as the new coach at UNC Wilmington. McGillan thought he would call and leave a congratulatory message; instead Brownell answered the phone call and told McGillan he'd like to meet with him.

"In the last two days, two guys that I have worked with have been hired as head coaches," McGillan said. "I also had four friends this year get fired, all on the same day. The landscape is insane. I understand when Kentucky and Kansas are changing coaches. This year it is in my backyard."

Speculation about coaching changes isn't new to Winthrop basketball. When Gregg Marshall was the Eagles' coach he was rumored to be leaving for South Carolina, American, South Florida, New Mexico and others. He accepted and then declined the job at College of Charleston. Marshall ultimately left for Wichita State.

This season Peele took a lot of heat from fans for the team's slow start. Winthrop athletics director Tom Hickman has been around long enough not to get carried away with all the rumors.

"A lot of Clemson people talked about uncertainty," Hickman said of former Tigers' coach Oliver Purnell's decision to leave Clemson for DePaul. "Speculation causes uncertain feelings. It has an affect on recruits and potential recruits. Athletic directors aren't worried about the coaching merry-go-round; it's just something we have to deal with."

Whether or not McGillan will get on the carousel remains to be seen. As it stands he has a great story about how he ended up at Winthrop.

The surprise answer has to do with former Kentucky coach Tubby Smith.

On March 22, 2007, Smith resigned at Kentucky to accept the coaching position at Minnesota. Smith's resignation led Kentucky to hire former Texas A&M coach Billy Gillespie whose departure sent the Aggies searching for a new coach.

Mark Turgeon left Wichita State for Texas A&M. Of course the Shockers courted and signed Winthrop's Marshall. Winthrop, in turn, hired then-assistant coach Randy Peele as head coach which left an opening for McGillan.

Simple, right?

Whiz.

At last count 28 Division I schools had replaced their head coach and another 14 were in the process of searching for a new one.

Karl Lyles 329-4032

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