Last year fans wondered about his job status at Clemson, a year later he has the Tigers in the Sweet 16
What a difference a year can make.
This time last year, Gabe DeVoe and Donte Grantham were getting text messages and phone calls about the false reports of head coach Brad Brownell’s demise.
Fast forward to Tuesday and the Tigers were talking about Friday’s game against Kansas in the Sweet 16 Round of the NCAA Tournament.
“Yeah, we had people hitting us up and asking us about the coaches,” DeVoe said.
Everyone got their answer a few days later, exactly a year ago this past Monday, when Clemson athletic director Dan Radakovich released a statement saying he was retaining Brownell as his head coach.
“I guess I was not worried as most,” Brownell said Tuesday. “I guess I probably should have been. Maybe I was being naive, I don’t know. But I also think that I had enough conversations with my boss most of the year that I felt okay.”
Two Clemson media outlets wrote Brownell was to going to be let go following the Tigers’ loss to Oakland in the 2017 NIT. Clemson blew a 20-point lead in the second half, ending its season at 17-16.
“I think way too much, by everyone, was made about the second half of the NIT game,” Brownell said. “I think that would have been the biggest overreach in the history of a lot of things.
“It is college sports with 18-to 21-year old kids. You are going to have a bad half, and I’m going to coach bad for a half or whatever happened in that twenty minutes that caused us to lose.
“But if you dig deeper into what is really going on in our program and know what is going on in our program then you just make decisions to keep guys or let guys go or whatnot.”
Brownell said he was confident his bosses were not going to fire him because of the way last season ended. The Tigers stumbled down the stretch, losing eight of their last 12 games and missed the NCAA Tournament for a sixth straight year.
“This bad half was not going to be the lasting impression in everybody’s mind,” the Clemson coach said. “They would have more reflection and dig deeper into everything that was going on in our program and see everything that happened over the last five years.”
What happened was Clemson spent 20 months without a home as Littlejohn Coliseum was rebuilt. The Tigers played home games in Greenville for one season and had to share Jervey Gym with the women’s basketball team and the volleyball team.
Brownell also put in a lot of sweat and tears into helping raise the necessary funds to build a new facility something most head coaches do not have to deal with while trying to recruit and work with his current players in the off-seasons.
All the hard work has paid off this year.
The Tigers (25-9) finished tied for third in the ACC in the regular season after being picked 13th in the media’s preseason poll. They advanced to the semifinals of the ACC Tournament and they are now two wins away from a berth in the Final Four.
“Obviously, this is very rewarding to get to this point, but this is not just one season,” Brownell said. “It is a group of players that I greatly cherish because of what we have been able to do this year and how we have been able to do it and to be able to do it with their attitude has been unreal.
“This has been more than a one-year deal. This has been a five-year struggle. This did not just happen with this year and this team. This happened because of the facilities and all the things that went into it. I think that is why I was retained. It was not just one bad half of basketball.”
Grantham said all the negativity, dating back to last year’s false reports, motivated the Tigers and played a big role on why they are in the Sweet 16.
“To be honest that is what kind of motivated our team throughout the year, people doubting our team and doubting our coaches and picking us thirteenth in the ACC. It was crazy,” the senior said. “I think that was our motivation. I think that was the wood that was thrown into the fire. I think that is what drove our team to where we are today.”