It came, it seemed, from out of the blue.
Oliver Purnell was coming off his third consecutive season of guiding Clemson basketball to the NCAA Tournament, and he was signed up to lead the Tigers at least through 2016.
Then in April, 2010, he was gone — off to the Windy City of Chicago and the windy, winding campus of DePaul where he would try to rebuild what has become a basketball shanty.
So Terry Don Phillips and company start working the phones in search of Purnell’s replacement, and after names like Rick Stansbury and Al Skinner are whispered it was the name of Brad Brownell that was finally called.
Who was this guy, anyway?
He had coached previously at UNC-Wilmington, so he was sorta kinda familiar with the landscape, but his most recent gig was at Wright State in Dayton.
His coaching style was different than Purnell’s, meaning the talent he would inherit — young men used to playing high tempo, pressure defense — would have to learn to be happy (and effective) in a half court style of play.
It was easy to be skeptical about the hire. It was even easier to think the 2010-11 Tigers basketball season would be marked by far more disappointment than delight.
But I tell you what — if you want to be cynical about Brownell, do so at your own risk.
The dude can coach.
And he never stops coaching.
There are many different styles and many different paths to success, but Brownell is the type of leader who stays engaged in the game from warm-ups to the walk back to the bus.
He’s talking and teaching through good times and bad, stressing strategy without ever seeming to stress out.
That approach helped the Tigers overcome a 31-12 deficit to North Carolina State on Tuesday and exit Littlejohn Coliseum with a 10-point victory over the Wolfpack.
And, that approach has helped the Tigers improve to 14-6 overall and 3-3 in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
Of course, Brownell’s coaching chops come naturally.
He was born in Indiana, and I’m convinced one day scientists will discover that all who are born in Indiana or Kentucky are blessed with a “basketball gene.”
And he knew what he wanted to do from the start; as soon as he graduated from DePauw University he went into coaching, and he’s been coaching ever since.
Still, he was something of an unknown when he arrived in the Upstate.
Yeah, a 167-85 overall record is nice and a few NCAA Tournament appearances are impressive, but coaching in the ACC is a lot different than coaching in the Horizon League or the Colonial Athletic Conference.
The worry when he got here was that he might not be the right fit.
The reality is that Brad Brownell is fitting right in.
The dude can coach.