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The Coach Brownell Dilemma

Let’s see how STS feels!

NCAA Basketball: Wake Forest at Clemson Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports

With Clemson currently looking at the play-in round of the ACC tourney rather than the NCAA tourney, there has been a lot of discontentment with the current direction of the program. The book is not yet written, but this season has complicated what should have been a payoff year for patience with Coach Brad Brownell. I wanted to issue a simple opinion poll as to how the readers here feel about the situation. Some have been very vocal in the commentaries, but many read without commenting. Let your voice be heard!

Coach Brownell was given a contract extension by Dan Radakovic a couple of years ago with the thought that it would stabilize things during the renovation process of Littlejohn. Contract status is a big deal in recruiting as players want to sign with a guy they know will be their coach the entire time (see Shelton Mitchell de-committing from Wake Forest when Bzdelik was dismissed).

Brownell inherited a much bigger mess of a program than most realize when Oliver Purnell took off for DePaul. While the program had made three straight NCAA tourneys with Purnell, the infrastructure of his program had begun to erode. It was clear early on that his final recruiting class, which was his highest rated coming in, was full of problems with players like Milton Jennings and Noel Johnson proving to be high maintenance. Trevor Booker’s promising brother Devin was already looking to transfer out of the program after year one. While Brownell inherited good upper class talent in Demontez Stitt (RIP), Andre Young, Jerai Grant, and Tanner Smith, the writing was on the wall that the good run of hoops was in jeopardy even if Purnell had stayed in Clemson.

Brownell went about repairing things internally as he worked to try to recruit with sub standard facilities. Unfortunately, key misses such as what Purnell suffered late in his tenure haunted his efforts. The biggest one was UNC swooping in and taking Brice Johnson after the Tiger staff had worked tirelessly on him for three years. A guy like that would have been a game changer in addition to having K.J. McDaniels. To make matters worse, McDaniels decided to leave a year early after a tremendous junior season. The team was not able to recover from that type of absence and the NCAA tourney drought continued.

After suffering through some misses on the trail like Johnson, Brownell began to adjust the recruiting approach to target more of the transfer market. This began with bringing in DeMarcus Harrison from BYU. Transfers in and out of programs have become much more rampant in the last 8 years, and Brownell’s program had a steady stream of guys leaving beginning with his first recruit Cory Stanton and most recently Austin Ajukwa. In all, seven players signed by Brownell (I think that number is right) have transferred out of the program during his tenure. This number is pretty high even in the current condition of division I hoops. This hurts a program like Clemson which can rarely bring in an instant impact player out of high school. Clemson needs to grow players during their four years where that junior and senior season is productive.

Brownell has also had to deal with turnover on his staff with several assistants landing head coaching jobs.

This season was supposed to be the best of the Brownell tenure, bolstered by the return of All-ACC star Jaron Blossomgame and the addition of highly regarded transfers Marcquise Reed, Eli Thomas, and Shelton Mitchell. Sidy Djitte’s senior season has been about as disappointing as Landry Nnoko’s, marred by foul trouble and not much improvement on the offensive end after showing growth and promise as a junior. Much more was expected of both Nnoko and Djitte than what they have/did deliver as seniors.

While this year’s team has been much better offensively than other Brownell squads, recently scoring a record (for an ACC game) 95 points in his tenure, the erosion of the trademark defense/rebounding that earlier teams used to be competitive has cost the team dearly. Following Saturday’s Miami game, Clemson sits at 14-12 and 4-10 in the ACC and almost certainly out of the NCAA tourney despite recent projections having them on the bubble.

So, what do Clemson fans on this site want to see going forward? Is making the NCAA tourney as a play-in or double digit seed enough progress to keep Brownell? Would you rather see the team miss the tourney as a way to incite change? NC State decided to move on Mark Gottfried despite his teams pulling out some pretty good late season runs during his tenure. In the coming weeks, we will look at the Clemson job in comparison to what we feel are similar jobs (not the Duke and North Carolina type jobs, but places like FSU, VT, Miami, Tennessee, Alabama, etc.).

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