College of Charleston becomes national punching bag over botched men’s basketball coaching situation

The College of Charleston has made a mess of the men's basketball coaching search. Courtesy of CofCSports.com.

The College of Charleston has made a mess of their men’s basketball coaching search.
Courtesy of CofCSports.com.

After a bizarre turn of events on Wednesday afternoon, the College of Charleston became the laughing stock of the college basketball world when two of the school’s top candidates for the vacant men’s head coaching position withdrew their names from consideration. Anthony Johnson, a former player for the Cougars, and Mike Young, the head coach at Wofford University, both stated they were no longer interested in the position.

The Spartanburg Herald-Journal reported on Wednesday morning that Young would remain at Wofford, leading many to believe that Johnson would become Doug Wojcik’s successor. Wojcik was fired on August 5 after two investigations discovered allegations of verbal and physical abuse against the former head coach.

Johnson, however, surprised many by stating in an email to The Post and Courier that he was removing his name from consideration, leaving The College in an embarrassing position.

“I am ending my pursuit of the position of Head Men’s Basketball Coach at the College of Charleston,” Johnson said in his email. “I have a personal matter, my divorce in June of 2013, that requires my full attention, as my wife and I are working hard to reconcile. This is my top priority at this time and what is in the best interests of my family, especially my two beautiful kids. Unfortunately, at this time, I cannot continue in my pursuit of that position.”

Johnson was Charleston’s first alum to be selected in the NBA draft, taken by Sacramento in 1997. He played 13 seasons in the NBA and was an instrumental part of the Cougars’ 1997 NCAA Tournament berth.

Clemson assistant coach Earl Grant, University of Connecticut assistant coach Karl Hobbs, former UNC Charlotte coach Bobby Lutz and Virginia assistant coach Ritchie McKay were also interviewed.

With less than three months to go before the Cougars season opener at Furman on November 14, this is not the time for an extended coaching search.

Although the timing of Wojcik’s firing was not ideal, it was perfectly justified. No coach should mistreat his players in the way Wojcik was alleged to have. However, not having a head coach under contract when the calendar turns to September has the nation buzzing for all the wrong reasons.

Charleston is considered one of the country’s top mid-major schools for college basketball, a place that coaches from across the county would love to work.

“It’s sad because Charleston is a great job, but now they’ve become a laughing stock around the country,” ESPN basketball analyst Jeff Goodman told The Post and Courier. “The program’s reputation has taken a hit and it’s all because the administration has mismanaged this from the very beginning.

Goodman has a valid point. From the start of the Wojcik investigation, school officials have seemed disorganized and out-of-touch, certainly discouraging potential candidates from submitting their names for consideration.

In a players’ meeting on June 30, athletic director Joe Hull allegedly announced that he would be firing Wojcik. However, outgoing president George Benson, in his final day on the job, overruled Hull and suspended Wojcik for a month without pay.

When The College launched a second investigation into Wojcik’s actions under new president Glenn McConnell, more evidence was uncovered which led McConnell to fire Wojcik.

With such a major change in leadership impending, no final decision should have been made until after July 1, when McConnell took over as president. This was not the case.

“They’ve known for a long time that they were going to have to find a new coach. This whole process should have been completed a long time ago,” Goodman said.

Without a coach on August 28, it demonstrates to potential recruits that the program is unstable and will make it very difficult to compete for prospects out of the high school class of 2015, not to mention the fact that there is a new season beginning in less than a month. Preseason practices usually start around the beginning of October, giving any coach hired less than a month to get settled and form relationships with players and staff.

Both McConnell and Hull should have known through the July investigation of Wojcik that they would likely need to start a coaching search.  There was no need to wait until August 6, when McConnell formed a search committee to find a new coach, to begin that process.

Anthony Johnson was inducted into the school's athletics hall of fame in 2013. Courtesy of CofCSports.com.

Anthony Johnson was inducted into the school’s athletics hall of fame in 2013.
Courtesy of CofCSports.com.

With a new president with his share of detractors and an athletic director not in-sync with his bosses, does anyone blame Johnson or Young for passing on the job?

It is almost ironic that Johnson was the school’s top choice for the position, only because of McConnell’s past history of receiving criticism for being a Confederate supporter-  which included pushing a move to fly the Confederate flag at the South Carolina Statehouse. The revelation that Johnson was set to be the next Cougars coach furthers the speculation that McConnell is under pressure to hire a minority to calm his detractors, something that Gary Parrish, a CBS Sports college basketball insider, wrote about earlier this month.

Regardless of McConnell’s true ambitions- and it may be unfair to blame him for something he very literally walked into on his first day as president- he is not doing his or the school’s image any favors by letting this situation play out longer than it should.

“I’ve had 50 coaches text or call me and tell me they’re glad they didn’t get involved during the search,” Goodman said. “But it’s still a great job and they’ll get someone good. The people I feel sorry for are the players. The College is very lucky they’re still at the school and they have not transferred yet.”

The College could very swiftly hire another candidate. Assistant coaches out of national powerhouses such as Clemson, Connecticut, and Virginia would be quality hires and could get the Charleston program on track – back where it needs to be. That’s without mentioning that UConn’s Hobbs and Virginia’s McKay are both African American coaches and both could get a second look now that Johnson is out.

But whether there is a new coach tomorrow or a week from now, it does not excuse the fact that the school has committed a major blunder throughout this entire process.

With a scenic location, relatively new athletic facilities, and a tradition of winning and stability, there is no reason why The College should be having this much trouble hiring a new coach for what had previously been such an attractive position.

The College of Charleston wished for more exposure with its move to the “big city” based Colonial Athletic Association last year. Well, they’ve got it and now McConnell and Hull have to quickly fix this mess with rest of the country watching closely.

Jason Lutz is the sports editor for @CisternYard. Follow him on Twitter @SportsEditorCYN.

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