While many folks were rolling their eyes when Corliss Williamson was announced as University of Central Arkansas men’s basketball coach, here’s why Brad Teague, UCA athletic director, had a gleam in his eye.
Williamson’s hiring and formal introduction occurred within a 17-hour whirlwind Thursday night and Friday morning.
He wanted to immediately head to Hot Springs to the state high school championships to begin recruiting Friday afternoon.
Williamson, eager to get started, was informed Thursday night by Teague that he couldn’t leave campus to recruit without passing the NCAA compliance test.
“How do I take the test?” Williamson asked.
“We’ll get it arranged for you,” said Teague.
“‘Let’s go,’ he told me,” Teague said. “He got up early in the morning (Friday), studied a little and we gave him a couple of practice tests. Then, it came time to take it and he missed one question. That’s without ever having seen an NCAA manual.”
Williamson was off recruiting Friday as Teague began relating how the hire was not for show or for the wow factor.
Teague admits to being skeptical himself when Williamson, a former member of both an NCAA and NBA championship team, contacted him.
Williamson grew on Teague and grew quickly. The firing of Rand Chappell and Williamson’s hiring took a week.
“It wasn’t any one thing that attracted me,” Teague said. “He just proved to me in the course of a week that he had a passion for coaching and had great excitement about being our coach. He proved to me he really wanted to work with kids and be a mentor to them.”
UCA had several strong NCAA Division I assistants check into the job. Williamson, a “Yeh, right, dream-on” candidate from the start gradually rose to the top. It was a combination of his commitment to coaching, his persistence and his vision.
“I admit, I had the same initial thoughts about Corliss when I was contacted,” Teague said. “My first reaction was he can’t be serious. During the course of a week, I found out he really was.
“This was not about being an NBA player or being an All-American at Arkansas or the Final Four or a national championship. This was about where he wants to be now and that’s UCA’s head coach.
“It comes down to things that go beyond a basketball court. He wants be be an example and to lead young men. He wants to work hard and teach discipline and respect and he wants to do it with high school recruits. He wants to graduate student-athletes and teach them how to be productive alumni and good citizens. It’s about core values. He cares out young men and what they become. As we talked, I discovered his vision matched my vision. I just met with NCAA educators earlier in the week. Corliss’ vision and plan matches the NCAA’s vision of what it wants to produce in student athletes.”
Williamson also impressed Teague by his willingness to be a volunteer coach at Arkansas Baptist, willing to drive vans to what would be considered podunk towns in the region. A fellow who was pampered as a player was willing to learn to coach on hardscrabble.
“And these were not good vans,” Teague said. “Vans break down all the time and he was willing to drive them everywhere. And this was somebody who had the opportunity to be a highly paid assistant at some major programs. This is someone who because of his NBA career and his family, he doesn’t need the money. He wants to coach.”
During his news conference, Williamson noted that his passion to coach was God-ordained.
“I’ve prayed and prayed about an opportunity,” Williamson said. “I didn’t know when. God knows when it’s time.”
“There’s a stereotype about Corliss Williamson and what this was about,” Teague said. “People are going to get the chance to see past that stereotype and see what I see.”
Hence, that gleam — sorta like you see in a bride’s eyes on wedding day — that never left Teague Friday afternoon.
(Sports columnist David McCollum can be reached at 505-1235 or firstname.lastname@example.org)