As new Clemson coach Brad Brownell reveled in completing a journey from college basketball obscurity to the big-time on Tuesday, fans of the school that foolishly let him escape four years ago experienced a wide range of emotions.
There was pride that a onetime UNC Wilmington coach had risen all the way to one of the better programs in the ACC. There was regret that Brownell made that jump from Wright State rather than from their school. And there was anger at how the Seahawks' basketball program has deteriorated in the wake of Brownell's unexpected departure.
In Brownell's four seasons at UNC Wilmington from 2002 to 2006, the Seahawks won two conference championships, averaged 21 wins per year and made the NCAA tournament twice. They've sunk to the depths of the Colonial Athletic Association in his absence, now unable to find a coach even willing to tackle the rebuilding project after three seasons with at least 22 losses in the past four years.
A hard-working, fiercely competitive coach like Brownell would never have let UNC Wilmington slip to those levels had he stayed there beyond 2006. Instead a rift between he and athletic director Mike Capaccio worsened when they couldn't agree on a new contract after the 2005-06 season, leaving the 38-year-old coach angry enough to leave a place he cherished for a Wright State job that was at best a lateral move.
UNC Wilmington probably could have retained Brownell with a decent raise or a longterm contract extension, but an unsatisfactory offer and a lack of communication from Capaccio drove the coach out the door. Brownell left to rebuild a Wright State program that had not experienced a winning season in four years and Capaccio hired UNC Charlotte assistant Benny Moss as his new coach.
Capaccio lasted just one more year as Seahawks athletic director before school officials fired him in part because of the fallout from Brownell's sudden departure. Moss didn't make it through his fourth season, getting his pink slip from new athletic director Kelly Landry Mehrtens as a result of a 3-7 start to league play. Three coaches in the past week have turned down offers to replace Moss from Mehrtens, extending her never-ending search to a remarkable 76th day.
Maybe the most galling aspect of the entire saga for UNC Wilmington fans is that if Brownell had left the Seahawks for Clemson this week, the school probably wouldn't have needed to look far for his replacement.
Within hours of Brownell's exit, Wright State promoted associate head coach Billy Donlon, who, you guessed it, was also an assistant to Brownell at UNC Wilmington.