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Best coach for Tigers may already be on the bench

They know what it feels like to take an irrelevant Atlantic Coast Conference men's basketball program and turn it into something significant. That's the job Oliver Purnell did at Clemson over the past seven seasons.

On the day news broke of his defection to Chicago, where Purnell intends to breathe life into a once-proud DePaul program, questions emerged at Clemson.

Defenders of the program will say it has risen to third best in the ACC based on winning more games than all but Duke and North Carolina in the past four years. They will also say it may be better than ever, but it still isn't good enough to win an NCAA tournament game three years in a row.

They ask how good it really is, and it's a fair question.

It was going to change with or without Purnell. The question is who will be the one to finish the job?

How about Butler coach Brad Stevens, architect of the Bulldogs' run to the national championship game Monday night? Stevens is suddenly the hottest name in college coaching and has already been rumored to have offers headed his way.

"I'd be crazy not to want to talk to him," Clemson AD Terry Don Phillips said of Stevens, "but I'm probably going to have to get in line with a lot of others."

Ron Bradley knows Clemson. He stood up immediately and volunteered to be the guy to finish the job. Purnell's assistant since Day 1 at Clemson, Bradley is the son of a Boston-area high school and coaching legend who has more than a few things going for him as the interim coach, for however long that title may be applicable.

"I want to coach at a national level," Bradley said Tuesday afternoon. "I want to win a national championship."

Bradley spoke after Phillips formally announced him as the interim, a title Phillips had bestowed on former football assistant Dabo Swinney two years ago before naming Swinney the head coach to replace Tommy Bowden.

The difference is that, unlike Swinney, Bradley doesn't have half a season to coach the team while Phillips mulls his options.

But there are important things he already knows about Bradley. This is a guy who understands Clemson, fits here well, knows the players better than anyone who will apply for the job, and he also knows as much, if not more about the ACC than anyone who will apply.

Bradley put together most of the scouting reports for Clemson this season and would take the job with a clear grasp of where he is and what needs to happen next. But you would notice a difference in the style of play.

"I like the press, I like to run," Bradley said, "but I understand the situation we're in and when I was (head coach) at Radford, we had big teams, small teams; one team was all guards that shot more 3s than almost the entire rest of the league combined.

"I'm as close to Oliver as you can be," Bradley said, "but that doesn't mean we're the same person. I might be inclined to do some things differently."

The big question Phillips will have to ask is whether Bradley can win at Clemson with the personnel he has.

"We have," Bradley said, "and we will."

Maybe it seems too convenient, but Clemson might find out a lesson it already learned in its coaching search. The best man for the job might already be on campus.