In the latest installment in his "Coaching Greats" series CHN writer Jon Teitel spent some time with Don Corbett, one of the greatest coaches in North Carolina A&T history. Corbett won 254 games at the school and led the Aggies to seven NCAA tournament appearances.
Jon Teitel: You led North Carolina A&T to seven straight MEAC tournament titles from 1982-1988 (tied with Kentucky for most consecutive tournament titles in NCAA history). How were you able to remain so consistent over such a long stretch of time?
Don Corbett: We were able to maintain our consistency because of our ability to recruit quality players and develop them for four years. The playing experience gained from their freshmen year through their senior year was a huge advantage for us. I think you can see how college basketball's parity is changing because of mid-major programs playing with juniors/seniors, in comparison to high-major schools playing with talented freshmen/sophomores. Experience makes a difference and it was a large factor in our success.
JT: What are your memories of the 1982 NCAA tournament (Joe Binion had 17 points and 12 rebounds in a loss to West Virginia)?
DC: We were extremely excited about playing in the Big Dance, but we were too excited to be representing our school in the way we would have liked to play. West Virginia was just as strong back then as they are now.
JT: What are your memories of the 1983 NCAA tournament (President Obama's future brother-in-law Craig Robinson scored 15 points to lead Princeton to the win)?
DC: We felt more comfortable because I thought we matched up better with Princeton. I observed an improved mental attitude but unfortunately we came up short again. I had no idea Robinson was on that team. I am sure I knew back then, but was unaware of that connection now.
JT: Eric Boyd scored 23 points in a one-point loss to Morehead State in the 1984 NCAA tournament, which was both the first play-in game and the first use of instant replay in tournament history (to settle a dispute regarding who was supposed to attempt a pair of free throws late in the game). What was your reaction like when one of your worst free throw shooters was fouled and another of your players stepped to the line, and do you think that the video evidence cost you the win?
DC: I felt that we should have won the game even though we both had equal personnel. Boyd was fouled in a multi-player collision. I think that game set a precedent for the use of instant replay in sports. You can see how instant replay had an effect in recent tournaments. Even so, this game was our best shot to get a win in the tournament.
JT: What are your memories of the 1985 NCAA tournament (Wayman Tisdale had 28 points and 12 rebounds in an Oklahoma victory)?
DC: Playing the Sooners in Oklahoma was a tall order. Tisdale was tremendous that night, as were their wing players. I think we started three freshmen. We played very tough the entire game and never backed down from them.
JT: What are your memories of the 1986 NCAA tournament (Danny Manning scored 15 (7-9 FG) in a Kansas victory)?
DC: This was the only game where I felt we were extremely over-matched. They could have beaten us by 50 if they wanted to, but Coach Larry Brown was generous and called off the dogs. Having to follow up Tisdale with Manning (who played high school ball here in Greensboro) was a monumental task for us.
JT: What are your memories of the 1987 NCAA tournament (Derrick McKey had 25 points and 14 rebounds in the Alabama win)?
DC: It was a tough environment again, as we were playing the Tide in Alabama. We played tough for the first 16 minutes but had too many mental errors late in the first half. Alabama shot the ball very well that day.
JT: What are your memories of the 1988 NCAA tournament (Rony Seikaly had 20 points and 16 rebounds to lead Syracuse to the win)?
DC: Seikaly led a very talented squad; Derrick Coleman and Sherman Douglas were on that team as well. We played our best tournament game that year because of our prior tournament experience. Once we tied the score late in the game I felt we had a legitimate shot to win, but they used their size down the stretch and pulled away from us.
JT: You held the record for most consecutive losses in the NCAA tournament until former Penn coach Fran Dunphy lost his eighth straight tournament game in 2006. What is the biggest difference between coaching in the regular season and coaching in the postseason?
DC: My coaching philosophy is to prepare for the regular season. The postseason is just a bonus for a successful regular season.
JT: Your team had a 37-game home winning streak from 1986-1988. How big a factor were your home fans, and did it reach a point where you expected to win every time you stepped out on your home court?
DC: We expected to win every time we played, whether at home or on the road. We wanted our opponents to fear a trip to our place and for the most part they did during that era. It was hard to get non-conference opponents to come play a game in our gym because they knew the type of environment they were going to face. Our attendance and school spirit were second to none. We did not want to let our fans down due to their loyalty.
JT: Five members of your team were placed on probation for their part in a brawl in a 1990 game against North Carolina Central (the game was declared a no-contest after being suspended with eight minutes left due to a fight involving 200 fans after Jimmy Humphries fouled Derrick Leak). How bad was the foul, and how did things get so out of hand?
DC: The competitive nature of A&T and NCCU is both great and historic. It is one of the biggest rivalries in the state so we felt there was a lot of pride on the line in that game. We wanted to control the tempo of the game but as always it was a physical contest. I do not remember the foul being flagrant, but what happened afterwards took away from the fact that it was a great game. Only recently have they resumed playing a home-and-home series on campus. I am glad to see the games being
JT: You were named conference Coach of the Year six times. What did it mean to you to win such outstanding individual honors?
DC: Whatever honors I received were a direct reflection of the players on the court. I had some great players so any accolades I earned were because of them and I am forever grateful.
JT: In 2005, the North Carolina A&T basketball court was named the Cal Irvin/Don Corbett basketball court. What did it mean to you when you learned about the decision to name it after you and Coach Irvin?
DC: It is truly an honor to have shared the name of the court with Cal Irvin but again, my players are the reason for that honor.
JT: Your son Darren is currently a high school coach. How proud are you of his success, and did you have any influence on his career choice?
DC: Darren grew up on my bench and wanted to coach, even though I tried to discourage him from doing so. Sometimes coaching can be a stressful profession so I did not want him to have to go through some of the things I went through. I am very proud of his successes and the relationships he has developed with his players. He is a hard worker and is mentally coaching year-round, which is a good sign of a commitment to excellence.
JT: When people look back on your career, how do you want to be remembered the most?
DC: I want to be remembered as a coach who was fair to his players and committed to making young men into outstanding citizens.
Corbett is also on Jon's list of best coaches in MEAC history.
Bethune-Cookman: Jack "Cy" McClairen (1961-1993) 397-427, 1-time conference COY
Coppin State: Ron "Fang" Mitchell (1986-present) 408-369, 4 NCAA tourneys, 10 conference titles, 6-time conference COY
Delaware State: Greg Jackson (2000-present) 177-180, 1 NCAA tourney, 3 conference titles, 1-time conference COY
Florida A&M: Mike Gillespie (2001-2007) 90-94, 2 NCAA tourneys, 2-time conference COY
Hampton: Steve Merfeld (1997-2002) 90-57, 2 NCAA tourneys, 2 conference titles, 1-time conference COY
Howard: Frankie Allen (2000-2005) 52-93
Maryland Eastern Shore: Kirkland Hall (1976-1984) 79-131
Morgan State: Chris Fuller (1995-2001) 53-115
Norfolk State: Charles Christian (1973-1978, 1981-1990) 319-95, 7 conference titles, 4-time conference COY
North Carolina A&T: Don Corbett (1979-1993) 254-145, 7 NCAA tourneys, 7 conference titles, 6-time conference COY
North Carolina Central: John McLendon (1940-1952) 239-68, 8 conference titles
Savannah State: Russell Ellington (1976-1985) 148-91, 3 conference titles
South Carolina State: Cy Alexander (1987-2003) 276-200, 5 NCAA tourneys, 6 conference titles, 3-time conference COY