You could sense the resignation apparent on Bobby Cremins face this season as Georgia Tech basketball continued its slow plummet back to the obscurity he discovered it in 1981.
When Cremins helped Tech avoid the possibility of an off-season of messiness by stepping down Friday, he acknowledged that his better days were a millennium behind him, not before him.
"I owe Georgia Tech too much to see the program sink," Cremins said.
He'll leave a legacy that created the Georgia Tech buzz throughout the mid-'80s. The expectations of success are there because Cremins created them, doing so with 10 NCAA Tournament appearances, three ACC tournament titles and a Final Four berth in 1990.
Now he leaves after failing to elongate the Yellow Jackets' rank as college basketball elite. He's a victim of his own high standards.
But let's be honest here about where Cremins failed the most: His trust in his players.
Cremins will never be inducted into basketball's X-and-O Hall of Fame on the basis of being an extraordinary strategist. His strengths have never been in dissecting an opponent's defense, or in organizing pregame blueprints for success, or in devising that in-game alteration that may befuddle the counterpart.
How many times this season have you watched the Ramblin' Wreck, the only ACC lineup to start two 7-footers this season, and wondered why this team seems so content to shoot, poorly I might add, from behind the 3-point line? Through Saturday, Tech has hoisted 515 triples, tops in the ACC, and made 33 percent.
Or why Tech never tries to trap, or press, or play any gimmick defenses to help aid his overmatched team?
Or how many times have you read or heard Yellow Jackets claim to not be ready for a game, either mentally or physically. That all leads back to coaching, to Cremins, all facets of his career that have receded in recent years.
He tread dangerously with a philosophy centered around stars. Cremins built lineups, not teams.
Weaned on the Frank McGuire-philosophy of star searching, Cremins tried to emulate his mentor at South Carolina and find the best five players, then play them 40 minutes a game. Tech became Tech this way, with Cremins fast-talking hoopsters out of New York by dangling carrots of playing time.
It's how Mark Price and John Salley and Tom Hammond and Dennis Scott and Kenny Anderson and Stephon Marbury all migrated south, and how a team that went 1-27 in ACC games before Cremins' arrival became a college basketball force.
But after Marbury's one-year stop in Atlanta in 1996, this philosophy became exposed repeatedly as college basketball evolved but Cremins didn't. Tech's 18-41 after Marbury's departure, a college basketball farce.
College basketball is now about hording as many good players as possible (see Duke, see Kentucky, see Arizona) instead of hoping the one or two great ones you sign stay the duration. It's about finding 10 players with comparable skills, then coaching them to accept internal competition and possible strife.
Cremins, it seems, cared more about his kids than about winning. While admirable, it eventually cost him his reputation, then his job.
"He won't recruit two kids for one position," said Price, lured back to Tech as an assistant coach following a stellar NBA career. "Whether you agree with that or not, that's the way he does things. He doesn't want unhappy kids. Some coaches don't care, but that kind of thing bothers Bobby."
A prominent coach will be hired soon, because this job in a power conference will be attractive to many. Cremins showed us how to win at Tech, and he showed us how to lose.
Reach Rick Dorsey at (706) 823-3219.
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