Originally created 07/04/06

Cremins back on bench where he belongs



The words naturally came to mind last week as the local television report showed an emotional Gregg Marshall reneging on his day-old commitment to the College of Charleston.

He pulled a Cremins!

Now the man who turned coaching change of heart into a verb has the chance to make things right in the Palmetto state he's called home for the past five years. The College of Charleston pulled Bobby Cremins out of retirement. That he accepted the job under similar circumstances he left at South Carolina, his alma mater, 13 years ago wasn't lost on him.

"Obviously I can empathize with Gregg," quipped Cremins when he took the podium to be introduced as the Cougars' new coach on Monday after Marshall had opted out to stay at Winthrop.

This time for Cremins, employment was apparently the perfect 59th birthday gift to give the man who retired from basketball coaching too soon. Six years removed from the bench at Georgia Tech was simply too long.

"I'm a little bored," Cremins admitted of his quiet life of luxury golf and tennis on Hilton Head Island.

"The bottom line is I really, really wanted to coach again," he said. "I wanted back in the game I love. It's in my blood."

That Cremins would eventually return to the bench has been obvious to anyone who has seen him during the past few years. Every July, the not-so-old coach would come to North Augusta for the Peach Jam and hang out with his former peers. Every July the old recruiter in him seemed wistful and eager to mix it up with everyone to assess and entice the finest high school prospects in the nation.

Just two years ago, Cremins came to Augusta to collect the Bobby Roberts Award for lifetime achievement. Through all of his declarations of happiness with his recreational lifestyle, he sounded like a man with more left to achieve in the game he's loved since picking it up on the corner lots in the Bronx.

"I'll never say no," he said then.

Cremins said it would take a coaching offer he was "absolutely sure of" to lure him back.

"I coached for 25 years, and I don't want to coach for the sake of coaching," he said. "I have nothing to prove."

Considering everything Cremins accomplished at Georgia Tech, including three ACC championships and a Final Four appearance, he's right. But he can prove something new this time around - that he can do more than just recruit.

By choosing to extend his coaching career in the same place he started it - the Southern Conference - Cremins won't have the ACC clout to back him up on recruiting visits. Even with his charming and persuasive gift of gab, he will ultimately have to foster success from the same kind of midmajor talent that made John Kresse a legend in the Lowcountry.

Cremins might have a basketball court named after him in Atlanta, but he'll now coach in a building named for Kresse. Even following a disappointing interim standard left by Tom Herrion, it's Kresse who Cremins will ultimately be measured by in Charleston.

Kresse, a fellow Roberts Award recipient who was one year younger when he retired in 2002 than Cremins is now, is famous for coaching his midmajor talent and getting it to perform against superior programs. In 23 years in Charleston, his teams averaged 24 wins a year, including at least 21 in each of his last nine seasons. Once he took the Cougars to the Division I level, he gained them the reputation as "giant killers."

For all of his success at Georgia Tech, Cremins was never hailed as a tactician.

He was sometimes infamous for letting his ACC-caliber talent get run over by lesser teams. Case in point was a stunning 84-67 shellacking at home of his eighth-ranked squad in 1992 to Kresse's emerging Cougar program.

He even acknowledged his perceived shortcomings when a booster started a question by saying, "We know you can coach ..."

"Really?" Cremins shot back.

For the first time since leaving Georgia Tech in 2000, Cremins has a program to call his own. He is the kind of big-name hire that will attract the same kind of attention to Charleston's corner of the basketball world that Steve Spurrier brought to South Carolina football.

Cremins might not be the kind of bench genius that Kresse-honed Marshall has proven to be at Winthrop, but he is an inspiring motivator and an inspiring choice for the Southern Conference program.

"The timing for me is right," he said at the introduction wedged between his 31st wedding anniversary and his 59th birthday. "I wanted to be back in the action. I have a great life, but it's time. I'm still young and healthy, and this is my life."

Whatever his reasons, college basketball is better off with Cremins back in the game. Here's hoping he doesn't pull another Cremins and leave anytime soon.

Reach Scott Michaux at (706) 823-3219 or scott.michaux@augustachronicle.com.