Lefty Driesell. Eddie Sutton. Rick Pitino. Tubby Smith...Cliff Ellis?
Quite a Rushmore of coaches right there, and yes, Coastal Carolina's Cliff Ellis is just one win away from becoming the fifth coach in NCAA history to guide four different schools to the NCAA Tournament.
Tomorrow, 4pm EST, Ellis and the Chanticleers play host to the Winthrop Eagles in the Big South Tournament Championship, as the former South Alabama, Clemson and Auburn maestro attempts to cement his legacy as Master of the Turnaround and assuredly, a spot in the coaching Hall of Fame.
The bespectacled Ellis looks more Econ Prof. than basketball luminary, but there is really nothing "typical" about Ellis. In a profession in which it's widely believed one must sacrifice any semblance of a side hobby or life outside of the basketball offices in general, here is Cliff Ellis: avid musician, author, chef, ostrich farmer, gardener, philanthropist and probably even finds time to fold his own laundry. He's a dolphin in a shark-tank industry.
Before embarking on a career in X's and O's, Ellis was the lead vocalist for the Villagers, a headlining garage-band on the Southeast party circuit in the 1960's. How many other coaches have something like this on their resume?
Tonight, at the Boardwalk Pavilion:
Bob Knight & the Stranglers, Roy Williams & the Aw Shucks Express, and Coach K & the Sweet 16's.
About a week ago I was watching some SEC West shat-show and the announcer, Dave Neal, recalled a conversation he recently shared with a longtime referee. The ref remembered working an Auburn game during Ellis' tenure, and the typically docile coach exploding out of his seat to vociferously protest a call. Words were exchanged, a warning was issued, and play resumed. Not 5 minutes later Ellis called the official over and simply told him, "I'm sorry I said that." It was the first and only in-game apology he'd ever received.
So if it's objectivity you like with your slice of the Big South, I'm sorry, I'll be rooting for Coastal Carolina to march forward to the dance for only the second time in school history, and Ellis to make a little history of his own.
Take it away, Cliff: