The move from associate head coach to interim head coach wasn’t wholly unexpected, Mark Byington admitted after Friday’s announcement that Bobby Cremins was taking a medical leave of absence from the College of Charleston men’s basketball program.
A couple of weeks ago in a postgame press conference, Cremins said he didn’t know how much longer he would be coaching and that he hoped one day Byington would get an opportunity at the College of Charleston. And Byington said those who have been around Cremins the last few weeks have noticed a difference.
“Coach and I talked late last night (after the Cougars’ 69-63 loss to Furman). When he called me at 7:15 this morning, I could tell by his voice that something wasn’t right,” Byington said Friday night after being introduced as the Cougars’ interim head coach. “As soon as he started talking and getting out about not feeling well, I knew the best thing for him was to get away.”
Byington, who has been on the staff for all six of Cremins’ seasons, said he first thought it would be a matter of a couple of days’ rest, but he said Cougars fans should understand the condition is not life-threatening and people should respect Cremins’ privacy.
Byington takes over a team that has struggled, losing its last three games and six of the eight games it has played since Christmas.
“One thing Coach told me from the first day of coming to his staff was to treat every day as if you’re the head coach. Coach Cremins gave me a lot of responsibilities. He helped me learn. He let me make mistakes. He taught me to do things right,” Byington said.
Because of the quick turnaround for the Cougars, who face Wofford at 3 p.m. at TD Arena, there won’t be any noticeable changes today other than a promise the team would play harder.“I could never fill the shoes of Coach Cremins,” he said. “What we are going to do is prepare hard and get this team ready. I’m going to turn the leadership over to the older guys. They’re going to be the ones responsible for getting the team to play hard. We’ll get them prepared.
“As far as the season moving forward, we have a lot to play for. We have 10 games (before the Southern Conference tournament). We’ve gone through a rough stretch with a lot of different circumstances.”
Byington said Cremins told him to keep the team together and not let the coaching change become a distraction.
“I don’t want our team to feel pressure,” Byington said. “I want our team to have fun. I told them I want high fives, I want guys diving on the floor, I want guys jumping up and down. That’s the way basketball is supposed to be.”