Morris: Brownell completes his climb to the top

04/14/2010 12:00 AM

06/17/2011 3:04 PM

CLEMSON | You get the impression Brad Brownell has reached the pinnacle of his career, having worked his way up the coaching ladder rung by rung, from Division III player to graduate assistant to restricted-earnings assistant to third assistant to second assistant to head coach at a pair of midmajor schools.

Brownell was introduced Tuesday as Clemson's basketball coach, one of 12 men leading what many believe to be the best hoops conference in the country. A kid who grew up the son of a high school coach in Southern Indiana is now a 41-year-old coach in the same league with Mike Krzyzewski and Roy Williams.

"Certainly there are challenges, but everybody comes back to the same thing," Brownell said when asked what his peers told him about the Clemson job. "(They said) it's a great place, a great opportunity and you're going to be coaching against the best coaches and players in America.

"Why would you not want to do that if you're a competitor?"

Brownell carried an impressive resume to interview sessions with Terry Don Phillips, Clemson's athletics director, over the past five days. Brownell won a pair of Colonial Athletic Association championships and NCAA tournament berths at UNC Wilmington, then tacked on a Horizon League title and NCAA tournament appearance at Wright State.

The question that naturally arises when a coach jumps from the midmajors to the big boys is simple: Can he recruit? It is one thing to corral second-level recruits to Wright State, and quite another to bring in players at Clemson who can compete against the nation's best.

We will not know of Brownell's recruiting acumen for four or five years, but he believes there is a way to bring players into the fold who can play championship basketball.

"I like versatility," Brownell said. "I like having a roster that is one through 12 or 13 or 14 or whatever it is, and I don't want all the same kinds of players. I want different kinds of players so we can make adjustments on the fly as a coaching staff.

"I think there are many ways to recruit. ... People get too caught up in rankings. All these experts with these top-100s and -200s, but at the end of the day, it's not just how you collect pieces, it's how you make the pieces fit. And how you make the pieces fit is coaching."

While the recruiting question might hang over Brownell's head for a while, there is little doubt about his coaching skills. Phillips believed he had the right fit for Clemson after he hung up the telephone last week following a conversation with Butler coach Brad Stevens.

"When we start working in October, we're going to work on things Wright State does because they are so well-coached," Phillips recalls Stevens telling him.

Brownell grew up in Evansville, Ind., and can recite the roster of Indiana's national championship teams of 1976, '81 and '87. He seldom attended Indiana games because he was busy assisting his father, Bob, who first coached at Evansville Day School and then at Castle High School.

Brownell attended his father's practices from the age of 5 and later kept statistics and tagged along on scouting trips.

While playing at Harrison High in Evansville, Brownell began to realize his future might be in coaching. Among his teammates was Calbert Cheaney, who clearly was a Division I prospect and became a star at Indiana.

After spending a year to recruit his future wife, Paula, at Purdue, Brownell transferred to DePauw University, where he played for three years and began charting his coaching career.

His coach at DePauw, Royce Walton, was a disciple of Indiana basketball under Bob Knight, as was Jim Crews, the coach at Evansville when Brownell was an assistant there.

So, naturally, Brownell's coaching style centers on man-to-man defense and the motion offense, two Knight staples. Then, in eight seasons as an assistant coach at UNC Wilmington under Jerry Wainwright, Brownell said he learned how to build and run a program.

All of that shaped what Brownell called his three principles for the Clemson program:

Passion. "I think you have to be passionate. ... I don't believe you wake up on the wrong side of the bed. ... You wake up with a good attitude and you hit the ground running, and let's make it happen. I want guys who are passionate about our team"

Purpose. "I think you have to work really hard. There is no substitute. If you don't work, you're not going to win. It's not going to happen. More than working hard, you better work smart. ... Talent is God-given. Skill is what you should be measured by."

Pride. "We're going to take great pride here when I'm the coach in being a Clemson Tiger. We're going to be proud of who we are, who we're playing for, and we're going to give you great effort."

Brownell took those principles to his Clemson team earlier Tuesday. Then, after being introduced at a news conference, he and his wife milled around the McFadden Building. At one point, Brownell's young daughters, Abby and Kaitlyn, approached their mother with big news.

The two had discovered a bathroom and shower in their father's new office down the hall. Sleepovers, they said, were an option. Dad's office at Wright State had nothing like that.

Brownell clearly has reached the big-time.

About Ron Morris

Ron Morris

Ron Morris

Morris has been employed at The State newspaper for 15 years, the last 11 as sports columnist. He is an Oklahoma native who was reared in Wyoming and graduated from UNC Charlotte. He previously worked for the Durham (N.C.) Morning Herald and the Tallahassee (Fla.) Democrat.Along the way, Morris has written a book, "An Illustrated History of ACC Basketball" and won numerous national and state awards for sports column writing, enterprise reporting and feature stories. He is a five-time sportswriter of the year winner in South Carolina by the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association. Morris has run a marathon, hitch-hiked across the country and appeared in Sports Illustrated for counting the number of times the ball bounced in a men's basketball game between Catawba College and Appalachian State. Email Ron at or call him at (803) 771-8432.

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