Jon Teitel's "Coaching Greats" Series: College of Charleston's Bobby Cremins

February 23rd, 2011

Before the season began CHN writer spent some time with current College of Charleston head coach Bobby Cremins to talk about his time at Georgia Tech along with a couple other coaching stops. Cremins took over a program that went 4-23 in the season before his arrival and within four years led the Yellow Jackets to an ACC Tournament title. His 1990 squad made it all the way to the Final Four in Denver, where they were knocked out by eventual national champion UNLV. Cremins' current team leads the Southern Conference and boasts one of the best guard in America in senior Andrew Goudelock.  

Jon Teitel: Your nickname is "Cakes". Who gave it to you, and how do you like it?

Bobby Cremins: I got the nickname in college because when I would talk down south with my New York accent, everyone thought that I sounded like I had cake in my mouth. I loved the nickname!

JT: You were part of Hall of Fame coach Frank McGuire's "underground railroad" of players who traveled from New York to play at South Carolina (along with players like John Roche and Tom Owens). What made McGuire such a great coach, and how was he able to get so many great players from the Big Apple?

BC: He won an NCAA title at North Carolina in 1957 and also coached at St. John's and in the NBA. He had an impeccable reputation as a person, as well as great charisma. He was like the Godfather. We had so much respect for all of his accomplishments.

JT: In 1970 you were the starting PG and captain for a South Carolina team that went 14-0 in the ACC, but Ed Leftwich stole the ball from you at midcourt and made the go-ahead layup to clinch a three-point double overtime win by NC State in the ACC Tournament final and cost your team a spot in the NCAA Tournament. How big a deal was it to go undefeated in conference play, and where does that rank among the most devastating losses of your career?

BC: The regional that year was in Columbia, SC and if we had won that then we would have been in the Final Four. Roche got injured in the semifinals and probably should not have played in the final. We were the best team in the ACC, but NC State coach Norm Sloan did a great job of playing the clock. It is the most devastating loss of my career, as it took away everything that we had worked for...but I am almost over it!

JT: In 1975 you became one of the youngest Division I head coaches in the nation at Appalachian State and proceeded to win three SoCon titles during your six years there. Did you feel like you were ready to become a head coach at age 27, and how were you able to come in and have so much success so quickly?

BC: I probably was not ready, but having been a point guard and worked for McGuire helped a lot. I was a good recruiter so I just learned how to coach while on the job. I studied coaches, read books, watched games, and attended clinics.

JT: In 1981 you were hired as coach for a Georgia Tech team that went 4-23 the previous year. Why did you take the job, and were you worried that it would take a long time to rebuild?

BC: The main reason I took the job was due to the ACC Tournament loss a decade before. I just wanted another opportunity to get the ACC title that I was denied as a player. I did not know a whole lot about the city of Atlanta or the school itself. All I cared about was that they were in the ACC.

JT: What are your memories of the 1985 ACC Tournament final (tournament MVP Mark Price scored 16 points and played all 40 minutes in a three-point win over North Carolina for the first ACC Tournament title in school history)?

BC: That healed my wound a lot, as Price was sensational. Dean Smith is a great coach, so that was really special to beat him and win it in Atlanta. One of my heroes is Al McGuire, who did the game on TV.

1985 NCAA Tournament

JT: Price scored 18 points in a win over Syracuse and 20 in an eight-point win over Illinois. As a former point guard yourself, what made Price such a great point guard?

BC: He had great bloodlines from his father, and was the total package. He put us on the map. He was a godsend to me, and a lot quicker than people thought. He had incredible heart and determination. We knew that we were getting a good one, but did not know that we were getting a great one.

JT: John Salley scored 15 points in a six-point loss to eventual national runner-up Georgetown. How close did you come to winning that game, and what was the reaction like when you got back to campus?

BC: John was skinny and could not shoot in high school so he was not highly recruited, but he was probably the smartest player that I ever coached. Everything was happening very quickly that month, and the next thing I know we are playing against Patrick Ewing and Coach John Thompson in Providence. We had a great chance to win the game, but just could not get it done.

1986 NCAA Tournament

JT: Salley scored 10 points and grabbed 11 rebounds in a five-point win over Villanova. Was it extra-special to knock off the defending champs?

BC: Rollie Massimino was a great coach so it was great to beat them, and then we got to go back to Atlanta.

JT: Don Redden scored 27 points in a six-point LSU win in the Omni. Did the crowd give you a home-court advantage, and how impressed were you by LSU having only five turnovers all night?

BC: I thought we had it won, but they made a big three-point shot late, so it was a tough loss.

1986 FIBA World Championships

JT: As an assistant coach to Lute Olson, you had a six-point loss to Argentina in the semifinal round but ended up beating the USSR to win it all. How shocking was the loss to Argentina, and what did it mean to you to win the gold medal?

BC: We got our butts kicked by Argentina but the loss got us refocused really quickly. Lute is one of the best coaches ever. Our big star was Muggsy Bogues. He almost did not make the team but thank God we took him.

JT: The legendary all-tournament team featured future NBA Hall of Famers Drazen Petrovic and David Robinson, FIBA Hall of Famers Arvydas Sabonis and Oscar Schmidt, and two-time Olympian Valeri Tikhonenko. Which of those five players impressed you the most, and could you foresee the future explosion of the sport around the globe?

BC: It was big-time basketball for the college kids to play against the pros from foreign countries. I did not foresee the rise of the game around the world, but they were all NBA-caliber players who were ahead of their time, and they sowed the seeds for the future. Oscar was one of the best ever...but I hated him because he was so good and so cocky. He pushed us around, but I had great respect for him as a player. They proved to the entire world that they were great enough to play.

JT: You are a three-time ACC Coach of the Year and in 1990 you were named Naismith College Coach of the Year. What did it mean to you to win such outstanding individual honors?

BC: I had really good players. My one regret is that we did not get to the Final Four more. I think we should have won at least one national title. I recently watched Coach K pass Dean Smith for #2 on the all-time wins list, and it brought back so many memories for me coaching against each of them. I never thought anyone would pass Dean.

1990 NCAA Tournament

JT: Dennis Scott scored 36 points in a win over East Tennessee State, then scored 30 and grabbed 11 rebounds in a three-point win over LSU. Where does Scott rank among the best scorers you have ever seen?

BC: Dennis was one of the greatest: he had tremendous range and great touch. He was a Magic Johnson or Kevin Durant-type player, but he was a little overweight. He could rebound, post up, etc. Price was probably the most talented player I had, but Dennis was probably the best all-around player I had.

JT: Kenny Anderson scored 31 points, including a shot at the end of regulation to send it into overtime en route to a one-point win over Michigan State. Where does Anderson's shot rank among the most clutch you have ever seen, and how was he able to play with such poise as a freshman?

BC: Kenny was sensational; the best pure point guard I ever coached. The things he could do with the ball were incredible. There were all kinds of controversy. The refs counted the basket, but called it a two instead of a three. Tom Izzo and Jud Heathcote were on the opposing bench. What a wild game.

JT: Scott scored 40 points and played all 40 minutes in a two-point win over Minnesota, then scored 29 in a nine-point loss to eventual champion UNLV. Where does that UNLV team rank among the best you have ever seen, and what was it like to coach against Jerry Tarkanian in the tournament?

BC: Dennis was the most versatile player I ever coached; there was nothing he could not do. We were drained after the Michigan State game, but we had UNLV on the ropes. Jerry respected us so much that he played a zone defense in the first half even though he is a great man-to-man coach, and he switched to a man-to-man defense in the second half. I took Kenny out after he picked up a charge for his 4th foul early in the second half. He is still mad at me to this day, so maybe I should have left him in after all.

JT: What are your memories of the 1992 NCAA Tournament (Jon Barry scored 17 points in a five-point win over Houston, 20 in a one-point win over USC, and 29 in a four-point loss to Memphis after you offered him a scholarship without ever having seen him play)?

BC: We had a great chance to go back to the Final Four but we missed some key shots down the stretch. Penny Hardaway hit a big three-point shot and Memphis won it in OT. I could not get Jon out of the locker room after the game because he was crying his eyes out.

1996 NCAA Tournament

JT: Stephon Marbury scored 29 points and had nine assists in a win over Boston College. Following in the freshman footsteps of Anderson, what is the key to trusting a freshman point guard to lead you in March?

BC: We were playing great basketball, and Stephon was a great talent.

JT: Danny Fortson scored 12 points and grabbed 16 rebounds in a Cincinnati victory. Was your team just unable to keep Fortson off the boards?

BC: We did not play well against the Bearcats in Lexington. We were young and could not stop Fortson.

JT: In 1996 you were an assistant to Coach Lenny Wilkens with Dream Team 2 in Olympics as they won a gold medal. Was it extra-special to win a gold medal in Atlanta, and do you feel that the US should be represented by college players instead of NBA players in the Olympics?

BC: Back then I preferred college guys, but now that the atmosphere has changed I think we should send NBA players. I just thought it was a mismatch back then with the NBA guys, but the Olympics helped foreign players get comfortable playing against the best in the world. It was a great honor for me. I just tried to stay out of the way and watch. Lenny is as classy as they come.

JT: You retired from coaching in 2000 but returned to become coach at the College of Charleston in 2006. How have you enjoyed it so far, and how long do you plan on sticking around?

BC: I was struggling by 2000 because we had lost our edge/swagger, and I knew it was time for me to leave. Paul Hewitt has brought the swagger back at Georgia Tech. I thought that I would get back into coaching after one or two years away from it, but I just got very comfortable in Hilton Head Island. I did some TV work and helped out with some charities (Coaches for Cancer, Jimmy V Classic, etc.). In 2006 I realized that I had something left in the tank, and the opportunity opened up at the right time. It has been challenging, but so much fun.

Coach Cremins is also on Jon's list of best coaches in ACC history.

Boston College: Al Skinner (1997-2010) 232-149, 7 NCAA tourneys, 3 conference titles, 1-time national COY, 2-time conference COY
Clemson: Cliff Ellis (1984-1994) 177-128, 3 NCAA tourneys, 1 conference title, 2-time conference COY
Duke: Mike Krzyzewski (1980-present) 891-281, 26 NCAA tourneys, 12 conference titles, 4 NCAA titles, 5-time conference COY, 6-time national COY
Florida State: Hugh Durham (1966-1978) 230-95, 3 NCAA tourneys, 1 conference title
Georgia Tech: Bobby Cremins (1981-2000) 354-237, 10 NCAA tourneys, 2 conference titles, 3-time conference COY, 1-time national COY
Maryland: Gary Williams (1989-present) 459-248, 14 NCAA tourneys, 3 conference titles, 1 NCAA title, 2-time conference COY
Miami (FL): Bruce Hale (1954-1967) 220-112, 1 NCAA tourney
North Carolina: Dean Smith (1961-1997) 879-254, 27 NCAA tourneys, 17 conference titles, 2 NCAA titles, 1 NIT title, 8-time conference COY, 3-time national COY
N.C. State: Everett Case (1946-1965) 377-134, 6 NCAA tourneys, 9 conference titles, 6-time conference COY
Virginia: Terry Holland (1974-1990) 326-173, 9 NCAA tourneys, 3 conference titles, 1 NIT title, 2-time conference COY
Virginia Tech: Charles Moir (1976-1987) 213-119, 4 NCAA tourneys
Wake Forest: Dave Odom (1989-2001) 240-132, 8 NCAA tourneys, 1 conference title, 1 NIT title, 3-time conference COY, 1-time national COY