On the eve of another Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament, the uncertainty surrounding Clemson head basketball coach Larry Shyatt's job status is trumped only by the deafening silence of the school's athletic administration concerning the matter.
Shyatt's future is in doubt again this year after his Tigers finished the regular season 13-16 (4-12 ACC), guaranteeing a third consecutive last place finish (this time in a three-way tie for seventh) and a third straight year with no postseason appearance, barring a miracle run through the ACC Tournament.
As Clemson has struggled through the ups and downs common for a team playing six freshmen and sophomores in its normal nine-man rotation, two factions seem to be developing among the team's fans:
Those who believe Shyatt's rebuilding process is working, and those who want him replaced because he hasn't won enough games.
Those who make up the latter camp no doubt are concerned about the well-being of the Clemson basketball program, but often times they prove to be misguided in their thought process. Simply firing Shyatt won't fix 50 years of ACC bottom-feeding. There has to be a dynamic Part Two to the equation.
The second step which usually follows the Shyatt-firing theory is to bring in either a dynamic young head coach or a proven, big-name winner.
One is a quick fix, the other a pipe dream.
Any good, young coach brought into Clemson could very well win next year and for two or three years after, if for no other reason than Shyatt has undertaken the task of balancing the class distribution in the program and sprinkled solid, sometimes potentially spectacular, talent through each class.
But as Rick Barnes showed Tiger fans, an up-and-coming coach will use Clemson's lower-echelon status in the ACC as a stepping stone to a job with a better chance of consistent, positive returns. Clemson, then, is left with starting the entire process over again, foregoing any chance at continuity.
And history says forget a big-name coach with a winning track record. Clemson's administration has shown no willingness in the past to ante up the money necessary to lure, then keep, said coach into the program.
In fact, it has shown no willingness to take the basketball program to the big time, period.
Which leaves us with the only real solution:
Bring back Shyatt for the final year of his contract.
Not because he's willing to work for a the worst salary in the conference. Not because of his well-known love for, and loyalty to, Clemson University. Not because of Athletic Director Bobby Robinson's pending retirement. And not because it would be unfair to subject a new coach to the possibility of playing his entire home schedule away from Littlejohn Coliseum next season.
No, the reason Shyatt should return is because, contrary to his critics, the Tigers have shown slow, steady improvement through the rebuilding process, and the numbers suggest Clemson is due for a breakout season in 2002-2003.
Clemson's points per game and field goal percentage are up from a year ago, its opponents' down in both categories. Its regular-season win total, ACC win total, wins over ranked teams and road victories all went up. The margin of defeat went down. Rebounds, blocks, steals - all up.
Further, it's possible to pinpoint five games - Miami (Fla.), Winthrop, Yale, and the first meetings with both N.C. State and Florida State - the Tigers lost by a total of 16 points during the regular season. A break here or there in each of those games and Clemson is an 18-win team this season. Even wins in two of the five would already guarantee the Tigers a spot in the NIT.
Were this a senior-laden team the numbers above would mean little, other than Shyatt was getting all he could expect from his team. But with three freshmen and three sophomores contributing significant minutes in Shyatt's rotation, the numbers point to great things on the horizon once another year of maturity is gained.
Mike DeCourcy, senior national basketball writer for The Sporting News, talks with Dan Scott about Larry Shyatt
- Real | Windows Media
Mike DeCourcy, senior national basketball writer for The Sporting News, told my radio audience earlier this week that firing Shyatt now would be a mistake. He, too, believes the Tigers are on the brink of something special, and Shyatt's efforts to build the program from the ground up - without cheating or overwhelming support from the Clemson administration - will pay great dividends next season.
However, the arguments presented here shouldn't really matter.
Regardless of the numbers, regardless of the outcome of the ACC Tournament, Robinson and/or Clemson University President James Barker should announce Shyatt's return immediately.
Very simply this:
Clemson University officials, be it sports or otherwise, often tout "loyalty" and '"the Clemson family" as strong points of the school.
Well, no one has been more loyal and giving to the Clemson family than Shyatt. His love for the school has been well-documented, and only a promise to keep certain information out of the public eye keeps a number of extraordinary good deeds from being presented here.
Loyalty, simply put, means a coach signed to a five-year contract gets that much time to build his program.
Legally, Clemson's administration could honor that contract by buying out the final year of Shyatt's deal. But repaying Shyatt's loyalty to the school means he must come back for 2002-2003.
If that happens, a year from now we won't have to worry about another "Fear Larry/Fire Larry" soap opera.
A year from now, we'll be talking about an 18-20 win season and his lucrative contract extension to remain Clemson's head coach.