Buzz Peterson Interview: Part One

    
December 30th, 2006

CONWAY, SC -- Seated at his desk, Coastal Carolina coach Buzz Peterson is all smiles as he leans back in his chair and reflects on his life as a basketball coach on the lower end of the NCAA Division I basketball world.

His basketball office located just 40 feet from the court, outside the gym at Kimbel Arena, on the campus of beautiful Coastal Carolina University, is probably a quarter of the size of his giant office he occupied for four years as coach at Tennessee.

His compensation package his last year at Tennessee was larger than the entire basketball program budget at Coastal Carolina. But as he proved it a few days earlier, money doesn’t win basketball games, players do, as his team eased by Wright State in double overtime 70-63. Wright State’s basketball budget is about twice the size of Coastal Carolina’s.

Gone are the days of flying to games on charter jets or hopping on a private jet after practice to fly out to see a recruit, returning at home in the early morning, getting a few hours sleep and getting up to do it all over again. Now he actually gets to spend a little time with family. He even can occasionally make it to his children’s games.

Buzz Peterson is a man who has been through and seen it all in college basketball. He coached for four years at Appalachian State located 3333 feet above sea level on top of a small mountain in North Carolina . He spent a successful season, well it turned out to be 288 days at Tulsa, leading the Golden Hurricanes to a NCAA appearance. Then off to the big office and high pressure of the SEC at Tennessee, where he finished with a 61-59 record in four seasons, but no NCAA trips.

And finally he is at Coastal Carolina located about six miles from the beach in South Carolina where his team plays in tiny 1200 seat Kimbel Arena. So he went from the Thompson-Bowling Arena at Tennessee which is the largest on-campus arena to one of the smallest. That is quite a journey in anyone’s book.

Now Peterson is content at Coastal Carolina to continue to build his team into the winners he built at ASU and Tulsa. He is enjoying the new-found time he has to spend with his family, as well as the challenge of building the Chanticleers into a consistent participant in the NCAA Tournament.

Peterson played for Dean Smith at UNC where he won a national championship. His roommate in college and his best man in his wedding was Michael Jordan. So the spotlight is nothing new to Peterson. In fact, there is probably nothing new for him at any level of college basketball.

We didn’t have time to get into any good Michael Jordan stories, that will have to wait for another time. But he did shed some light on his time at Tennessee, as well his new life at Coastal Carolina.

Bill Kintner: What is the difference between coaching at Tennessee and coaching at Coastal Carolina?

Buzz Peterson: There is really no difference once you are out there on the court coaching. You love what you are doing, You are working with 18 to 22 year old young men and you love the fact that you are out there on the floor teaching basketball. Roy Williams said the biggest adjustment will be going from playing in the biggest on-campus arena in the country to playing in one of the smallest. It kind of was, but once the game tips off, you have no idea. When our students our here, our place is full. It feels like you just have everybody on top of the court. Another difference might be getting used to bus trips, but once you sit down and get reading something the time passes by pretty quick. I am just thankful that I still have the opportunity to coach at the Division I level.

BK: Now you are not flying in charter jets either and for recruiting you are not flying the private jets?

BP: That’s right. I remember my last year at Tennessee on Tuesday nights after practice I was gone. I had my stuff there, I would change clothes, run out to the airport, jump on a plane and then be home by one or two o’clock in the morning. On Friday I would do the same thing. If the team was on the road, I would just fly in and meet them. That will wear you out a little bit. I don’t miss it that much. I do kind of miss the high level recruiting a little bit.

BK: How is recruiting different at Coastal than at Tennessee?

BP: At Tennessee or in the SEC you are trying to stay a year or two ahead of the game. You are looking at freshmen and sophomores, trying to get everything lined up there. At the Big South level or at Coastal, most kids want to hear from the ACC, SEC schools or top six conferences. They don’t want to hear from the Big South schools yet or at least early in the recruiting process. What we try to do in the early part of their senior year is if they want to sign with us fine, but what is really important for us is the late period. Someone who didn’t sign early, now they are a little concerned. We look at prep schools a lot. It is not so much now that we are looking at freshman/sophomores, it is more the juniors and seniors. You have to plan a little bit more because your budget is not as big. If you want to fly you have to see if someone can’t get on the Internet and look for some flights that are low-cost, same for rental cars or maybe for a night you can stay at someone’s house. It just takes a little more planning to recruit.

BK: Now Tulsa is kind of in the middle in terms of budget between Coastal and Tennessee, right?

BP: Tulsa is kind of in the middle. Although when I was out there I did take a private plane. At Tennessee I did that all the time. The biggest difference is my time. When Doug Dickey hired me he said if anybody from Memphis to Johnson City wanted me to speak, really try to work it into your schedule. So I kept that in mind. He said, “I want you to be competitive, Fulmer is going to win a national championship, I want everyone to know who is my men’s basketball coach.” I can remember during the spring, I spoke three times on one Saturday. I spoke in Knoxville, Johnson City and Columbia, then flew back home that night, It was like I was almost running for office. Now I don’t have to worry about that as much. I do have to speak and I do. Now I do 20, 25, maybe 30 speaking engagements. But now I get more time with my family. I would say it is paying off where I can see my wife and kids more. I find myself doing more of the honey-do stuff.

- Continue to Part II -