Jon Teitel's "Coaching Greats" Series: Norfolk State's Charles Christian

July 20th, 2011
Early this year CHN writer Jon Teitel spent some time with former Norfolk State head coach Charles Christian to discuss his tenure at the school. Coach Christian won seven conference titles and was named conference Coach of the Year four times. Sadly Coach Christian passed away in early April at the age of 83.

Jon Teitel: How did you get into coaching, and why did you choose Norfolk State? 

Charles Christian: The head coach at that time was a guy I played against in high school (Ralph Smith), and I was his assistant for three years before taking over as head coach in 1973.

JT: What are your memories of the 1984 Division II Tournament (Norfolk State beat Winston Salem State before a two-point loss to Virginia Union and future NABC POY Charles Oakley)? 

CC: We always had an intense rivalry against Winston Salem, as we met them in the CIAA conference finals several times. 

JT: What are your memories of the 1987 D-II Tournament (Norfolk State won two games before a six-point loss to eventual champion Kentucky Wesleyan)? 

CC: Our leading scorer Ralph Tally did not have a great game, and Barry Mitchell was sick at the time, so those were two big factors in the loss to Kentucky Wesleyan. 

JT: Your team led all of D-II in FG% defense twice in a three-year span in the mid-1980s. How much emphasis did you place on defense, and what is your secret to playing good defense? 

CC: Defense is a side of the game that very few people put an emphasis on, but we did.  They did not have all the regulations about practice time back then that they do now, so we had long practices that focused on defense.  You have to work hard on it because everyone is usually focused on scoring.  Before I started as coach at NSU, the team averaged 90+ ppg in a run-and-gun style that the fans enjoyed.  After I came in we only scored about 70 ppg, but as we won more and more games the fans eventually came around.  Our goal was to hold teams to 70 ppg, as we figured that we could score over 70 points ourselves.

JT: Tally remains the only Norfolk State player to ever be named D-II POY: was he the best player you ever coached, and what made him such a great player? 

CC: Ralph's stats were great, but one of the best players I ever coached was Eugene Cunningham (who was drafted by Golden State in 1976).  He was a heck of a competitor and a student of the game.  He was only 6'6" and not an exceptional leaper, but he had the timing/position to get any rebound he wanted. 

JT: You spent several years as the president of the Suffolk NAACP chapter. Why did you choose to get involved with the NAACP, and what were you able to accomplish? 

CC: I was involved in many civic affairs during my entire time at Suffolk, serving on the library board, school board, etc.  After I quit coaching I was approached about running for NAACP president.  I was hoping to enjoy my retirement by resting so I only planned on staying for one term, but I ended up serving two terms.  The members are the ones who really do the work. It is important to have a good drum major, but it is everyone in the band who plays the music!  It is very similar to basketball: coaches are important, but it is the players who must produce (both as athletes and students). 

JT: In 2003 you were inducted into the school's Hall of Fame. What did it mean to you to be inducted, and where does that rank among your career highlights? 

CC: I was humbled to receive such an award: I was inducted into a couple of other Halls of Fame as well, and each of them was a great honor. 

JT: When people look back on your career, how do you want to be remembered the most? 

CC: I would like to be remembered as a guy who produced student-athletes who were also good citizens.  I think that working with the young men on the basketball court contributed a lot to them being good adults and family men.  For example, if you run a play but do not score you do not just quit and walk off the court: you get back out there and try to do it again. 
Coach Christian 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) 395-357, 4 NCAA tourneys, 10 conference titles, 6-time conference COY
Delaware State: Greg Jackson (2000-present) 166-169, 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
South Carolina State: Cy Alexander (1987-2003) 276-200, 5 NCAA tourneys, 6 conference titles, 3-time conference COY