Originally created 04/28/04

New challenge, old friend attract Tuell to Florida



Two lives converged on a basketball court in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., last week.

One man owing another man an old favor. That other man receiving a delayed debt.

Seven-year Augusta State men's head basketball coach Gary Tuell resigned Monday after accepting the same position at Nova Southeastern from his friend and athletic director Michael Mominey.

Mominey was indebted to Tuell, who helped change his life.

While an assistant coach at Miami, Tuell befriended the school's student trainer, Denise. She had a dilemma and went to Tuell for counsel on a road trip. Should she break up with or marry Mominey, then an intern with the Cleveland Indians?

After helping her write down a list of pros that far outdistanced the cons, Tuell asked a simple question.

"Are you crazy?" he said.

Mominey married Denise, and as fate would have it, he later ran into Tuell, who was then the St. Thomas basketball coach. Tuell hired Mominey as the school's sports information director.

While Mominey climbed the sports administration ladder, Tuell continued coaching basketball. At St. Thomas, he found success. At Augusta State, he created a winner.

Fast forward to this year. Mominey needed a coach to rebuild Nova Southeastern. He sought Tuell out for advice. After talking about different coaches, Mominey shifted the conversation to Tuell. He asked if he was interested.

"I never thought about leaving Augusta State," Tuell said. "If anything, I thought about moving west."

The whirlwind hiring process began Thursday when Mominey asked for permission to speak with Tuell. After a visit, the 54-year-old Tuell quickly found another challenging situation.

In the basketball world, Tuell has a penchant for turning trailers into mansions. At Nova Southeastern, he found utopia.

The school doesn't have its own gym. The basketball team has endured nine straight losing seasons. The program has no respect.

It was nearly the mirror image of Augusta State when he was hired in 1997.

"I like the fact that it's a challenge," he said. "I could have stayed here another 10 years and not worry about my record. But that's not me."

There were no visible signs of Tuell leaving Tuesday at the school. No cards. No flowers.

And there probably won't be a grand parade for him when he leaves Friday. Despite his accomplishments at Augusta State. Despite suffering two heart catheterizations, an emergency appendectomy and having his gallbladder removed while at the school.

"Very, very few people really know who I am," he said. "I'm an enigma anyway. I don't let a lot of people get too close."

Tuell went 113-89 in seven seasons with one Peach Belt Conference regular-season title, two PBC Tournament titles, two NCAA Division II appearances and five PBC North Division titles.

A two-time conference coach of the year, Tuell's best mark came in 2001-02, when he led the Jaguars to a 22-8 record. Last season, the Jaguars had only their second losing season (11-17) under Tuell.

While he turned the Jaguars around, Tuell never led the program into the top 25 or made it a national contender.

But some might say he was never fully given a chance. While other conference schools are given free reign when it comes to recruiting, Augusta State's basketball team is given a limited amount of out-of-state waivers - recruiting gold allocated by the school's administration.

"We don't have the freedom to recruit the best athletes out there," he said. "You have to be able to do that if you want to compete for a national championship."

Now Tuell heads to a place where pocketbooks are deeper and beaches are just miles away. He'll head there for morning and late-evening strolls. He might even write some more poetry.

"The ocean inspires you," he said.

Reach Chris Gay at (706) 823-3645 or chris.gay@augustachronicle.com.