It is kind of ironic that after another appearance in the National Invitational Tournament, Clemson athletic director Dan Radakovich has a big decision to make when it comes to the future of his men’s basketball coach.
Following a great run in the 2014 NIT, a run that saw the Tigers advance to New York’s Madison Square Garden for a Final Four appearance, Radakovich extended Brad Brownell a new six-year deal guaranteeing him $10.6 million. Three years into that contract, Clemson once again found itself back in the NIT, but this time the talk has nothing to do with a contract extension.
After failing to make the NCAA Tournament for a sixth straight season, the Tigers lost in the first round of the NIT to Oakland on Tuesday night. To compound what is already an irritated fan base due to the inability to get to the NCAAs, Clemson blew a 20-point second half lead to the Grizzles, ending what was a disappointing season for the Tigers.
Now, with three years left on Brownell’s contract and a $3.5 million buyout, Radakovich plans to meet with Brownell sometime in the next few days or weeks to discuss the future of the basketball program and where it is going from here.
Does that mean Brownell’s days are numbered at Clemson?
On Monday, as he previewed the Oakland game, Brownell said he felt as if he would return to coach the Tigers next season. Even after Tuesday’s loss, he still felt that way.
“Yeah, I do. I don’t know if anything changed, other than we had a bad half. Maybe it did, but I don’t think so,” he said.
In his seven years at Clemson, Brownell has amassed a 124-103 record (55 percent win percentage). That’s not a bad record, especially when you consider he spent an entire season without a home, but it is not a great record either.
The Tigers, who finished this season at 17-16, have made the NCAA Tournament just one time—Brownell’s first year—and have two NIT appearances. He has won 56 ACC regular season games and three ACC Tournament games. In fact, his 59 ACC wins are tied with Cliff Ellis for the most by a Clemson men’s basketball coach.
In his seven years, the Tigers have had one losing season and just three times they had a losing mark in the ACC, including this past year’s 6-12 mark.
Radakovich came out last week at the ACC Tournament in Brooklyn, N.Y., and backed his head coach saying they were looking to continue to work with Brownell.
“He has been very supportive,” Brownell said. “I think he recognizes, again, a lot of the positive things happening in our program.”
Those positive things are of course the new Littlejohn Coliseum and the new Swann Pavilion, which houses both the men’s and the women’s programs. Brownell played a big role in not only getting the process started, but he went out and sold it and got big-time boosters to believe in him and why they should help build a new facility.
“The facility and the changes we have here have brought a lot of excitement,” Brownell said. “There is not only a strong fan base in terms of people coming to games, but we built a really strong donor group, too, which was not in place six years ago and has really helped make this building what it is and as special as it is.
“I think those people really see what we are doing. Our players graduate. They do the right things. They are very involved in community service. It is unfortunate where the last two years we have been two games away from (the NCAA Tournament). We need to get over that hump and certainly we are working extremely hard to do that.”
But the fact that the Tigers once again did not make the NCAA Tournament despite having one of the best players in the ACC back for his senior year in Jaron Blossomgame has made the fan base even more frustrated.
Brownell is the first Clemson coach since Bobby Roberts (1963-’70) to stay on at Clemson despite a six-year stretch of not making the NCAA Tournament.
However, Brownell feels good days are ahead, and because of the new facility recruiting has picked up. Clemson has three four-star recruits ready to come in and help, while it returns point guard Shelton Mitchell, guard Marcquise Reed and center Elijah Thomas as all three showed great growth throughout the season.
“We did not achieve what we wanted to achieve by not getting to the NCAA Tournament,” Brownell said. “But I think the quality of our play was pretty good this year. We did have some mistakes at the end of games that cost us. We missed some free throws. We missed on a couple of defensive assignments. We had a couple of bad offensive possessions. But the quality of our play was very good, most of the year.
“I feel like our recruiting is good. I feel like we are bringing in good players. That keeps getting better.”
But the question for Radakovich as he looks at the future of the program in the days to come is this … Can Brownell get the Tigers over the hump?