Jon Teitel's Coaches Interview Series: Charleston Southern's Gary Edwards

November 2nd, 2010
In the latest installment in his coaching greats interview series CHN writer spent some time with former Charleston Southern head coach Gary Edwards. Edwards led the Buccaneers for nine seasons, winning 115 games and two conference Coach of the Year awards during his tenure, and is currently the head coach at Francs Marion University in Florence, South Carolina. His career record currently stands at 444-313 in 26 seasons as a head coach.

Jon Teitel: You graduated magna cum laude from Virginia Wesleyan in 1979 where you were named an academic All-American, and you later got your master's degree from Old Dominion. What importance do you place on academics, and how has your own intelligence made you a better coach?
Gary Edwards:
I have always tried to incorporate athletics and academics into a total educational experience, and have tried to instill that belief in my players. At Charleston Southern we graduated all of our players. Division II is a different animal because you are dealing with more transfers and at-risk recruits. I do not know how intelligent I am, but I have always tried to keep things pretty simple in my approach to the game. Some coaches try to complicate things, but what we do is not brain surgery!

JT: From 1979-1982 you coached at the Portsmouth Invitational Tournament. Which player there impressed you the most?
To be honest, coaching in the PIT was a great experience, but I do not remember all the players. I do remember Eric Burks (one of my guys at Charleston Southern) making the All-PIT team in later years.

JT: In the spring of 1995 you had a one-point upset win over UNC Greensboro in the Big South title game thanks to a bucket by Burks at the buzzer. Where does Burks' shot rank among the best you have ever seen?
That shot was very memorable because it signified how much he had grown as a player and person during his time at Charleston Southern. I write a weekly newspaper column and one of my best was, "Give it (the ball) up and the ball will come back to you." Eric was double-teamed on that last play and passed the ball to a teammate. The "old" Eric would have never done that, but the "new" Eric trusted his teammate...who missed the potential game-winning shot. However, the ball was batted around and landed in Eric's hands just in time for him to shovel in the winning basket as time expired. It was a wonderful moment for our team, as UNC Greensboro had beaten us one week earlier by 30 points, but it was an even better life lesson. I tell the story to young people all the time: give up the ball, give of yourself...and it will come back to you.

JT: In the fall of 1995 you went into UNLV with a 1-6 Charleston Southern team and left with an eight-point upset win over the Runnin' Rebels. How were you able to pull off the upset, and what was the feeling like in your locker room afterwards?
The UNLV game was very interesting. Prior to the game UNLV retired the jerseys of Stacey Augmon and Larry Johnson, and it was the 1st time that "Tark" had been back in the arena since resigning. Fireworks were going off and our guys just stood there in awe taking it all in, but once the game started we played with poise and confidence. Although it was a very memorable win, it was also very bittersweet because UNLV was coached by Bill Bayno (my former assistant and longtime friend), so I felt bad for him.

JT: You spent a decade as head coach at Division II Indiana University of Pennsylvania, where you went 206-88. How were you able to have so much success there, and why did you decide to leave?
A lot of people questioned why I would leave Charleston Southern (a Division I member of the Big South) for IUP (a D-II school), but very simply, the IUP job was a better job. Frank Cignetti was the Athletic Director and football coach at IUP at the time, and he just did a great job of making that entire athletic program 1st-class. We had more resources to work with, I got a significant raise in salary, and it was a place where you could win year in and year out. Indiana, PA is a great place, and I really enjoyed my time there. The culture began to change when IUP hired a new president: when he made a major issue out of what could have been a very minor one, I knew it was time to head back down South.

JT: What are your memories of the 2002 Division II Tournament (your team made it all the way to the Final Four before losing to eventual champion Metropolitan State)?
My memories in Evansville include our PG Wes Layton, who had a phenomenal game against Northwest Missouri St. in the first round. He was from out that way and his entire family was there to see him. He had 27 points and we were all so happy for him. My other lasting memory is how Metro St. beat us in the semifinals and how impressed I was with their defense. I think then-Metro (and current St. John's assistant) coach Mike Dunlap is one of the best coaches in the game today. I remember going out to Denver to spend time with him and learn his defense, and we in turn have used that defense with great success throughout the years.

JT: You are 7-4 in Division II Tournament games and 8-1 when playing for a conference or regional championship. How are you able to get the most out of your players when it matters the most, and does your coaching style change at all from the regular season to the post-season?
I think that my teams have done well in "big games" because we do not put too much pressure on ourselves to win. We prepare very hard, and then we have faith that everything will turn out the way it is supposed to turn out.

JT: In 2007 the NCAA placed IUP on probation after an investigation revealed that you committed major rules violations during your time there. Do you feel like you did anything wrong and how has the probation affected your life (if at all)?
The NCAA placed IUP on probation but gave them no other significant penalties. Much of the problem was with the swimming program. I used bad judgment in trying to help several players gain in-state residency status so their scholarships would not cost our scholarship budget as much, and I allowed two players to get a book for their summer school class without adding an addendum to their summer school scholarship paperwork. I was personally never put on probation by the NCAA and the entire situation could have been handled differently by the IUP administration, but everything worked out for the best.

JT: You are currently the coach at Francis Marion. How do you like the gig and where do you hope to end up in the future?
Francis Marion is a wonderful school, and I am working with an outstanding/loyal/supportive administration. I am committed to building this program so that we can compete successfully on a national level, and that challenge is something I am enjoying very much.

JT: When people look back on your career how do you want to be remembered the most?
I hope that people (including my former players) will look at me as more than a basketball coach. I am a basketball coach, yes, but I am also a father, a husband, a son, and a friend. I write a little bit, I sold some hot dogs from a cart this summer. I just hope I am remembered as a guy who tried his best at everything and won more games than he lost.

Edwards is also on Jon's list of best coaches in Big South history.

Charleston Southern: Gary Edwards (1987-1996) 115-139, two-time conference Coach of the Year
Coastal Carolina: Russ Bergman (1985-1994) 149-112, two NCAA Tournament appearances, four conference titles, three-time conference Coach of the Year
Gardner-Webb: Rick Scruggs (2002-2010) 87-122, one conference title, one-time conference Coach of the Year
High Point: Bart Lundy (2003-2009) 96-87
Liberty: Jeff Meyer (1988-1997) 134-127, one NCAA Tournament appearance, one conference title
UNC Asheville: Eddie Biedenbach (1996-present) 181-202, 1 NCAA Tournament appearance, four conference titles, three-time conference Coach of the Year
Presbyterian: Gregg Nibert (1989-present) 349-274, two conference titles, two-time conference Coach of the Year
Radford: Ron Bradley (1991-2002) 192-125, one NCAA Tournament appearance, three conference titles, one-time conference Coach of the Year
VMI: Charlie Schmaus (1976-1982) 75-90, one NCAA Tournament appearance, one conference title, one-time conference Coach of the Year
Winthrop: Gregg Marshall (1998-2007) 194-83, seven NCAA Tournament appearances, six conference titles, four-time conference Coach of the Year