The Wright Choice

New Clemson basketball coach Brad Brownell (left), with athletic director Terry Don Phillips, is 167-85 in 8 seasons as a head coach.

BART BOATWRIGHT

CLEMSON -- The Tigers found their new men's basketball coach at the Richmond Municipal Airport on Monday, on the landing-strip flat plains of Indiana.

Brad Brownell made the short trip across the Ohio-Indiana line to meet with Clemson's athletic director Terry Don Phillips in an airport conference room some four hours from his boyhood home in Evansville, Ind. They met in the basketball-rich land where Brownell learned the game from his father, a high school coach, where he worshipped Bobby Knight's Indiana teams, studying the Hoosiers' man defense and motion offense.

There were times Brownell couldn't sleep the last five days, following his first meeting with Clemson last week, ridden with the anxiety of what could be: so close to a dream, to coaching in what he dubbed the greatest of all college basketball conferences.

The anxiety lifted late Monday night, when Clemson offered Brownell a five-year contract. Brownell, 41, accepted and was introduced as the program's 22nd men's basketball coach in the McFadden Building on campus Tuesday.

"It's something I didn't know would ever happen," Brownell said. "I'm proud of the fact that I'm a self-made coach."

The man who replaces the departed Oliver Purnell, was, like Purnell, discovered in Dayton, working as the head of a mid-major program.

His rise was similar to Purnell's. Brownell played Division III college basketball at DePauw. He worked as an assistant at three different programs before taking over UNC Wilmington in 2002.

He led the Seahawks to the NCAA tournament two times in four years before leaving for Wright State in 2006, where he turned a sub-.500 team into an NCAA tournament team his first season and followed with three more 20-win seasons.

But the similarities to Purnell stop there.

Purnell's pressure defense resulted in Clemson ranking 50th to 65th the last three seasons in tempo, a statistic that measures pace of play.

Wright State and UNC Wilmington, by contrast, have been two of the most half-court centric teams in the country under Brownell.

Wright State never finished better than 304th in the country in tempo under Brownell. At UNCW, Brownell's teams were in the 250-range.

Brownell believes the style is conducive to success in the postseason.

In eight years as a head coach, Brownell has won three conference tournaments. Purnell is 0 for 6 in the NCAA tournament, and Purnell's last two campaigns ended in first-round exits in both the ACC and NCAA tournaments.

"I don't like extending the court all the time against certain teams where you create open-floor situations and they can play behind you," Brownell said. "Look at tournament basketball, go back and look at the Final Four -- there weren't a lot of 85-80 (scores). It was 61-59, 58-56 and 54-52. The game changes. If you are not used to playing that style of basketball during the season and you get caught in that in the ACC and NCAA tournaments, it's hard to win."

Brownell is known as a very good tactician.

Dayton Daily News reporter Kyle Nagel said he has never seen Brownell draw up a play after a timeout that failed to result in an open shot. Brownell also has reportedly run clean programs.

Brownell said roster versatility is another of his core tenets, and it will be interesting to see how he incorporates a roster built for the full-court press.

"We adapt. I like versatility," Brownell said. "I don't want all the same kind of players, so we can make adjustments on the fly."

Brownell's charisma and charm was also a departure from the stoic Purnell, and more like another Phillips hire in the room Tuesday: football coach Dabo Swinney.

"If he and Dabo are in the room at the same time, there might not be enough oxygen," Phillips said. "His passion and energy came out real quick. And you talk to people and that's how he is, that's how he coaches."

Like Swinney, Brownell figures to begin his tenure in the ACC modestly compensated. Immediate salary figures were not available. Brownell made $365,000 last season, and had a $50,000 buyout.

Phillips declined to comment on how much of the search was influenced by financial considerations, and also declined to talk about other candidates, including Mississippi State coach Rick Stansbury, who turned down Clemson on Monday.

Phillips said talking to other coaches was critical for his search. The two prominent names he spoke with were Texas coach Rick Barnes and Butler coach Brad Stevens, both of whom recommended Brownell.

Stevens, it should be noted, was Brownell's chief rival in the Horizon League.

It is Stevens, also raised in Indiana and having played college ball at DePauw, that Brownell wants to follow to the Final Four -- a goal he stated in his interview with Phillips and on Tuesday.

"He has been a winner everywhere he has been," Stevens said. "He is a quality coach and a quality person. Clemson has hired a big-time basketball coach."