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ACC Question Mark: Can Brad Brownell Survive?

ACC Men’s Basketball Tournament - Second Round
GREENSBORO, NORTH CAROLINA - MARCH 10: Head coach Brad Brownell of the Clemson Tigers reacts following a call during the second half of their second round game against the Miami Hurricanes in the ACC Men’s Basketball Tournament at Greensboro Coliseum on March 10, 2021 in Greensboro, North Carolina.
Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

Back in 2003, as some of you will remember, UNC-W came within a whisker of knocking off defending national champions Maryland in the first round. Only a clutch Drew Nicholas jumper kept the Terps from a humiliating upset. And it was a beautiful shot as you’ll see on the replay here. Look for the slo-mo near the end. Under heavy pressure, he hit a beautiful clutch shot. Didn’t even touch the rim.

And if you’ll look carefully on the replay, you’ll see Brad Brownell on the sideline.

That was his team. After that he went to Wright State, where he went toe-to-toe in the Horizon League against Butler and rising star Brad Stevens for several seasons, where he certainly held his own.

And at Clemson?

He’s done...alright.

But, as Alan Iverson might have’s Clemson.

His winning percentage is .574, which wouldn’t fly at Duke or UNC and not for long at Wake Forest or NC State either.

At Clemson? It ain’t bad.

Clemson has never won an ACC championship and has only been as far as the Sweet Sixteen once before Brownell arrived, where it was gutted by a miraculous Tate George buzzer beater (in the following game, Christian Laettner delivered a devastating buzzer beater of his own to UConn).

Over the last five years, Clemson has made the post-season every year except for the canceled 2020 tournaments. Only Oliver Purnell has had a longer streak and he never won an NCAA tournament game at Clemson.

And keep in mind that basketball is a distinct and distant second to football in Tiger Town. It’s not close and we can’t imagine it changing.

So by most reasonable standards, Clemson should be pretty happy. Yet it’s hard to tell.

Remember when Clemson nearly dumped Brownell in 2018 for VCU’s Will Wade? Good thing for them that LSU made a strong-ass offer that Wade couldn’t refuse.

Then there was the near miss on Zion Williamson. Remember his stepfather said that Clemson was at one point leading before Duke won out.

That would have completely changed Clemson’s place in the basketball firmament. He might have been their Pistol Pete.

Then there was the recent blow-up by a former player’s parents who accused him of abusive behavior.

His AD stuck by him though and it seems to have blown over.

Even so, even though he’s kept the job longer than anyone else in Clemson history, if we’re not mistaken, and has proven that he can succeed at least modestly in the ACC, with occasional bursts of superb basketball, we’re not at all sure that he’s secure.

Aamir Simms, John Newman, Olivier-Maxense Prosper, Lynn Kidd, Clyde Trapp are all gone.

Of those, only Simms is a senior.

The incoming class is pretty thin too, with Josh Beadle and Ian Schieffelin on the way. Lucas Taylor had committed but changed his mind.

The Tigers do bring in 6-4/220 lb. David Collins, a grad student transfer from South Florida who racked up more than 1,500 points, and 6-6/230 lb. Naz Bohannon from Youngstown State. He’s a solid rebounder and scorer but he’s moving up a couple of levels. He’s also a grad transfer.

As far as we know, that’s the current state of Clemson’s roster. Both the transfers might help and it’s possible the freshmen exceed expectations. Al-Amir Dawes is an excellent point guard who will be among the ACC’s best.

But inside play will be questionable and it’s not at all clear how the team will mesh and how roles will be taken up.

Even so, Brownell has only had one losing season and since he hasn’t exactly coached at bluebloods or had top-flight talent, that’s very impressive.

Nonetheless, there has been pressure already from Clemson fans who might think they can do better and maybe they can. But this is a very tough job in a highly competitive conference and it’ll never be the priority at Clemson.

Hiring Wade probably seemed like a brilliant idea at the time but now we know Clemson dodged a major bullet.

Sometimes it’s better to stick with (forgive us) the devil you know.