So you think you’re into March Madness, especially with the dribbling starting Thursday from Portland to Kansas City to Philadelphia? Well, you should move to the back of a growing line that is headed by the famous owner of floppy white hair in Charleston, S.C.
There, you’ll find Bobby Cremins, the basketball coach at the College of Charleston via Georgia Tech. He prefers four play-in games to the NCAA tournament instead of the current one. He also would like to have the winner of the National Invitation Tournament receive an automatic bid to the Big Dance the following season.
“I’ve thrown that around, and people laugh at it,” said Cremins, who nevertheless shrugs and says of this time of year, “I love everything about it. I love to watch, and I really love going to the games.”
All you need to know is that Cremins has missed just one Final Four in person during the past 34 years. “And that was when I was going through my mid-life crisis with South Carolina,” he said, sighing over the phone, recalling 1993. That’s when he agreed to coach his alma mater by bolting a Tech program that he built into a consistent ACC force.
Then, as Cremins likes to say, he “embarrassed” himself by returning to the Yellow Jackets three days later. He eventually resigned at Tech after his 19th season in 2000. There were 10 trips to the NCAA, including Lethal Weapon 3’s run to the Final Four in 1990. “My father died at Christmas of that year and that took something away from everything,” Cremins said. “But, you know. My only regret in coaching is that we didn’t go to the Final Four at Georgia Tech three times. If we did that, we could have won the national championship at least once.”
Instead, Cremins was nagged by “what could have been” with the Jackets during his bored life out of coaching for six years, but then he left the beaches of Hilton Head in 2006 for the College of Charleston. His Cougars have been vibrant. They nearly waltzed into the Big Dance last week until they lost in the Southern Conference title game on the home court of Chattanooga, the eventual winner. They later accepted a bid into something called the College Basketball Invitational tournament.
There is only one tournament that counts, though. It will culminate on April 6 with Cremins joining his coaching buddies at Detroit’s Ford Field.
“In the old days, we could see every legendary coach at the Final Four, you know, like Al McGuire,” said Cremins, chuckling, since he has the plain-speaking, off-beat feel of the late Marquette icon who also was a New York native. “The only problem of the tournament is it’s gotten big. Those legendary coaches used to get great seats, but corporate America has taken some of their seats away. It’s important that those legendary coaches are visible and get good seats.”
Cremins will be visible regardless. Just look for the hair. That, along with a smile as bright as one shining moment.