Originally created 07/12/97

Fire burns again for Estes

George Calvin "Butch" Estes specializes in reclamation projects.

In the early 1980s, he revived a moribund Presbyterian College basketball program. In the mid-'80s he moved on to Furman and did the same thing. Now, after three years out of the business, Estes would like to spread his magic dust at Augusta State.

This time, he would be pumping life into more than just the slumping Jaguars program. At 48, the silver-haired Estes hopes to resurrect his once-promising coaching career.

He resigned at Furman in March 1994 after nine seasons and a record of 135-122 (.525), citing something akin to burnout.

"If you stay in one place long enough, you can get in a rut," Estes, one of five finalists for the Augusta State job, said then. "You can get too comfortable. I've got to be motivated to get after something."

Former associates say Estes, whose five-year contract was about to expire, was frustrated by several factors:

  • A downturn in Furman's recruiting that led to consecutive losing seasons and a 21-35 record his final two years.
  • "People weren't glad to see Butch go," says Furman athletic director John Block, "but they were not unduly upset because of the last few years."

  • Furman's inability to deliver on its pledge to build an on-campus arena. The Paladins played their home games in dingy Greenville Memorial Auditorium through 1995-96. Next season they move into 4,500-seat Timmons Arena under their third coach since 1994, former Minnesota assistant Larry Davis.
  • A painful divorce from his wife, the former Ann Johnson. She remains in the Greenville, S.C., area with their two sons, while Estes has relocated to Smyrna, Ga.
  • Those were the major factors that wore Estes down and robbed him of his usual enthusiasm and near-manic work ethic.

    "I could tell he sort of lost his focus the last few years," says Ray Parlier, who was Furman's athletic director from 1989-95 and now manages a Chick-fil-A restaurant in Fort Myers, Fla. "In the past I had seen him stay up 24 hours at a time, getting ready for a basketball game. Toward the end, he might have stopped after 12 hours.

    "It was nothing major, just some of the little things. When a guy is as competitive as he is, it doesn't take much to see that something's wrong there."

    In the past three years, Estes has worked as a television analyst for SportSouth and run his own basketball recruiting service. He says he has recharged his battery and rediscovered his coaching desire.

    "If you ever step away from something you love, you want it back," says Estes, who interviews at Augusta State on July 16. "I don't think I would take things for granted like I once did if I got back into coaching."

    Though most of his experience is at the Division I level, Estes says he actually prefers the perspective of Division II.

    "I want to coach at the Division II level," he says. "My best experiences were at (NAIA) Presbyterian. I think it's a level where you can really enjoy the kids and be a part of campus life. You don't have all of the outside things pulling on you. I enjoy that level more. It's the real essence of play. The kids are playing for the love of the game, not to make it to the NBA."

    There's no denying Estes' coaching credentials. A native of High Point, N.C., he played freshman basketball at North Carolina before moving into a student assistant role with the Tar Heels' junior varsity. He worked with such players as George Karl and Bobby Jones and acquired Dean Smith's obsession with solid defense, unselfishness and detail.

    Estes spent two years as an assistant at The Citadel, four at East Carolina and three more at Rice, where he worked for future NBA coach Mike Schuler and recruited future NBA swingman Ricky Pierce.

    At the start of the '80s, he moved to a Presbyterian program that had suffered five straight losing seasons. After losing 21 games his first season, the NAIA Blue Hose won 70 games over Estes' final three campaigns.

    In 1985, Estes jumped to Division I Furman, a once-proud program that had enjoyed great success in the '50s and '70s. But the Paladins were down, having endured five straight losing seasons of their own and going 50-90 in that span.

    Estes turned Furman around quickly, posting winning records in five of his first seven seasons. The Paladins knocked off Villanova in 1989-90, and the following season stunned 10th-ranked East Tennessee State and Wake Forest.

    The 1990-91 season proved to be Estes' highlight. Furman went 20-9, won the Southern Conference title and lost to West Virginia in the first round of the NIT.

    Now Estes wants to get back into the game, where those who know him best say he always belonged.

    "I talked to Butch recently and I think he's got the hunger back," Parlier says. "With his competitiveness and his enthusiasm, he'll make somebody an excellent coach. I knew he'd get back into coaching. It's in his blood. Doing something else really wouldn't satisfy him."

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