Commentary: Shyatt Remains a Man on the Move

by - Correspondent -

CLEMSON - To watch Larry Shyatt these days, it's almost as if nothing has changed.

It might a quick, strained wave with one hand while his head cocks sideways to meet the cell phone in the other. It might be the amusing site of his dogs - "mutts," he calls them - dragging him around the block.

It might be catching a glimpse of him buzzing around Clemson in his car, or finding out he's just returned from five days in Israel.

Whatever the case, Shyatt gives every indication he's a man on the move. Only now, that move is out of town.

One year after being forced to resign as Clemson's head basketball coach ("fired," he insists), Shyatt is heading back to the bench. Tuesday it was announced he would join Billy Donovan's staff at the University of Florida, uniting a pair of long-time friends whose paths have crossed many times over the past 15 years or so.

Wednesday, he slowed down long enough to spend an hour with me in studio on my daily talk show (9 a.m.-Noon, WCCP - 104.9 FM) to reflect on his time in Clemson - he's spent nine of the last 10 years here - and look forward to his latest challenge.

"It's time for us to move on," he said. "This is the only place my three sons have ever called home, and it will always be a special place for Pam (his wife) and me. So special that perhaps it's a place we'd return to at some point in the future.

"But right now this (Florida) is the right situation for us, and it's time for us to go."

Shyatt officially joins Donovan's staff June 1.

He will venture into Gator Country alone at first, Pam lagging behind to get all three sons off to college again this fall. He won't be heavily involved in recruiting at first, although he said Donovan told him "we may have some fun and the two of us tag team some of their top guys."

Instead, he's being counted on to help bring fresh ideas to a program which has made six consecutive trips to the NCAA Tournament and played for the National Championship in 2000. But the Gators also have gained a reputation as underachievers since that run to the title game, failing to advance past the second round of the tournament since.

"It's all about perception," Shyatt said. "Anybody who spends 15 minutes around Billy Donovan knows the hunger is there. He's an in at 7 (a.m.) and out at 11 (p.m.) kind of guy. They go to six NCAA tournaments in a row, and someone like you says they're under achieving. It's a matter of perspective.

"In some places, just getting there is the goal. In some places, two straight appearances would be cause for celebration."

I laughed and remarked to Shyatt that had he gone to two straight NCAA tournaments he might still be the head coach and be sitting on a nice, fat long-term contract.

"Maybe one," he said.

Regardless of the failure to reach the tournament, it remains obvious Shyatt is immensely popular in Clemson. His personality alone was enough to captivate much of the basketball fan base here, causing them to root like the devil for him to be successful.

When he wasn't those who supported Shyatt felt the pain and suffering with him, but never lost respect for him. That was never more evident that the last 35 minutes of the hour, when he requested we open the phones to see if anyone had questions for him.

The phones started ringing immediately, and still were ringing long after we finished the interview and had taken a break for the national news update. Well-wishers used words like "class" and "friend" to describe Shyatt, and he spoke to each and every one of them as if they were long-time pals.

And it's that class - "the high road" - Shyatt chooses to exhibit, that may be his lasting legacy at Clemson. Sure, there will be the occasional reference to a big win, or perhaps even his overall losing record. People may remember the team's shooting struggles, or an occasional temper tantrum.

But very few people will be able to challenge the class and dignity with which he served the Clemson family for nine years - four years as an assistant with Rick Barnes and another five as head coach.

Even now, as he prepares to move on to the next chapter of his life, he chooses not to take shots at some of those people and obstacles which made life difficult for him as he tried to rebuild the Tiger program.

That he would be justified, perhaps, in doing so isn't enough to change his mind.

"It's a fair question," he said when I asked if he were bitter about some of those obstacles, things which happened to him at Clemson only a select few have been given the privilege of knowing.

"My better half, the woman I go home to at night, says we have to stay on that high road, and she's right. There were far, far too many good things that happened here for us to dwell on the bad. We love it here, we've made a lot of friends, and we prefer to leave it at that.

"As I said, fair question, but one I won't touch."

With that the hour ended, he shook hands and before you knew it he was out the door. Cell phone back to his ear, zipping out of the station parking lot to who knows where.

A man on the move yet again.

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