Bobby Cremins is still doing his thing at College of Charleston
Bobby Cremins looked like his head was on a swivel. His College of Charleston basketball team was about to meet Saturday morning in a hotel conference room to go over the scouting report for the game it would play against George Mason at Patriot Center, and Cremins wanted to make sure everyone had a place to sit.
"Carolyn, take my chair, I'll get another one," he said to his wife, even while someone was grabbing a chair for Carolyn Cremins.
He looked around again and pointed to another chair nearby that Athletic Director Joe Hull could use. He waved a couple more people into the room, looking more like a cruise director than a coach with 537 victories on his coaching résumé before Saturday night's 85-83 win at George Mason. He clearly was completely at home, doing what coaching friends call the "Bobby Cremins thing."
Only Bobby Cremins can do the Bobby Cremins thing. He's done it successfully now for 29 years -- including a six-year break after he left Georgia Tech, where the court is named for him -- in a manner that may be unique in the pantheon of big-time coaches: He's never made an enemy.
"When I first got in the ACC, I was the only one who got along with Dean Smit," he said, his Bronx accent turning Smith into Smit in the same way that it used to turn Matt Harpring into Matt Hopping in the Georgia Tech days. "I always sat next to him at the coaches' meetings. I loved the guy. He'd always lean over and say something funny that no one else heard. He was always good to me. Maybe it was because we'd both been assistants for Frank McGuire."
Or maybe it was just because even his competitors find it impossible not to like Cremins. When Mike Krzyzewski was sick and out of coaching in 1995, Cremins called his house every day to check up on him. "I finally had to say, 'Bobby, I swear I'll call you when anything changes,' " Krzyzewski's wife, Mickie, said. "I think if I'd asked him to come up and clean the house for me he'd have done it."
Maryland Coach Gary Williams tells another story that may say even more about how much people like Cremins. "One year, Bobby comes into an ACC coaches' meeting all excited," Williams said. "He says: 'I saw my next point guard yesterday. The kid is perfect for us.' We all kind of looked at him and said, 'Uh, Bobby, yesterday was a dead day' [a period when coaches aren't allowed on the road to evaluate recruits]. He was stunned. He said something like: 'Oh boy, I didn't know that. I guess I'll have to turn myself in.' Anyone else in that room claims he doesn't know it was a dead day, everyone would call him a cheater. Bobby does it and we just shrug and say, 'That's Bobby.' "
Cremins is 62 now. The glamour days at Georgia Tech seem to be a long time ago. In 1981, at the age of 33, he took over an absolutely horrendous program (1-29 in conference games during its first two ACC seasons) and won an ACC title four seasons later. That group, led by John Salley and Mark Price, began the next season ranked No. 1 in the country. It didn't make the Final Four, but Cremins's 1989-90 team led by "Lethal Weapon 3" -- Kenny Anderson, Dennis Scott and Brian Oliver -- did.
There were ups and downs after that, a two-day career as the coach at South Carolina, his alma mater, in 1993 before he changed his mind, and then four straight seasons at Tech without an NCAA tournament bid, culminating in a 13-17 record in 1999-2000.
"I knew it was time to go," Cremins said. "I remember we got killed at Maryland right around this time of year and I went for a run near the hotel the next morning. Something just kind of kicked in. I called Carolyn and said, 'I'm done, I'm writing my letter of resignation today.' "
The plan was to spend a year or two recharging and resting. "I never intended to quit coaching," he said. "I was only 54. I just wanted to get away for a while. Those first couple of years I had a lot of chances, but I never took them. The next thing I knew I was walking on the beach one day and I realized it had been six years. I thought I'd kind of blown the plan at that point. I felt like I'd lost my way and my purpose in life. Then I got the phone call out of the blue and it was like a godsend."
That call in 2006 came from an old college teammate, Corky Carnevale, who lived in Charleston, S.C., and was a big booster to the program. Gregg Marshall had been hired as the College of Charleston's new coach. Cremins had been interested in the job but when he heard that Marshall, who had been extremely successful at Winthrop, had gotten it, he thought it was a great hire. "I called Gregg and told him I thought it was a great move for him," he said. "I figured I was done at that point."