Corliss Williamson, a basketball legend at the University of Arkansas, a player who rode jets as a highly respected NBA player and one who drove old vans as a volunteer coach at Arkansas Baptist, is the new head basketball coach at the University of Central Arkansas.
Williamson, 36, nicknamed through his playing career as “Big Nasty” and one of the few basketball players in history to be a member of an NCAA national championship team (Razorbacks, 1994) and a NBA championship team (Detroit Pistons 2004), was introduced as Rand Chappell’s successor Friday afternoon, a week after the former coach was fired after seven seasons.
“We were fortunate enough (in the search) to get ourselves in front of a lot of really good coaches who wanted to be Division I head coaches,” said Brad Teague, UCA’s athletic director. “One made it clear to me that he wanted to be UCA’s head coach. He passionately wanted to be a coach and he was aggressive with his passion to be UCA’s head coach. He came to me with a vision and a plan.”
Part of that is to make UCA a nationally-recognized and respected Division I program.
“I think this school can be one of the next great mid-major schools out there, one of those that people are looking at every year, maybe to pull an upset or two in the NCAA tournament and make a major run,” Williamson said. “I’m a competitor. Whoever I’m fighting against (in recruiting players) better put their dukes up.”
And Williamson pointed to a bigger plan. He had actually wanted to be a head coach when his oldest son (14) was a senior in high school.
“I prayed and prayed about an opportunity; I didn’t know when,” he said “The opportunity to coach at the Division I level doesn’t happen soon for a lot of people. I had a plan how I wanted to do things but God is gonna do it His way and I’m here to do His work.”
“He wants to create a good enviroment for kids, not only to learn the lessons from athletics, but to be successful in life,” Teague said. “For me, it’s not just about a coach who wins. It’s all a part of core values and and caring about young men. It’s working hard and gaining respect and he wants to take high school kids and help them develop.”
He cited his goal of being a Division I coach in Arkansas.
“I didn’t want to leave the state,” Williamson said. “This is my home and I take a lot of pride in what we have done in the state. This is pretty much the perfect fit for me. We’re the youngest team in the (Southland) Conference with an opportunity to play in a postseason tournament for the first time. I’m young. I’m new.
“This is not just something to do. Coaching is a passion of mine. It’s what I want to do. I want to be one of the best coaches ever. When I passionately pursued this job, maybe I bugged Dr. Teague too much with phone calls and text messages. But I guess it worked.”
Can he recruit on the Divison I level?
“I have to sell this program,” he said. “When I select a select a staff, that’s gonna be a big thing I take into consideration. We want to get the right type of people for this program, not just the best athletes but the overall person. I’m willing to go out there and beat the bushes and do what it takes.
“I like to win. That means I’m gonna work hard. My staff is gonna work hard and I expect my players to work hard. We will play with a spirit and play an exciting style of basketball. To this community, we can’t just ask for your respect, we have to earn your respect. I promise you, you watch us play and we will earn your respect.”
He has coached on a volunteer basis at Arkansas Baptist for three years, last season as a head coach succeeding Charles Ripley. The Little Rock institution has limited resources that participates in a junior college conference primiarily against Texas teams.
“I wanted to start at Arkansas Baptist because I wanted to start at the ground level and work my way up,” he said. “Driving buses, driving fans. Not a lot of coaches do that, especially coming from the professional ranks. That’s what I wanted to do so I could have the respect of my peers coaching on this level and also so I would understand what it takes on the ground level and how it is to earn respect.
“I learned at Arkansas Baptist to push guys to go beyond what they believe they can do, beyond expectations. And I learned what effect a coach can have on a young man’s life. As a player, I didn’t understand that. Now I see the benefits of that on my life.”
Williamson, a two-time Gatorade National High School Player of the Year at Russellville, was the Most Outstanding Player of the 1994 NCAA Final Four in helping lead the Razorbacks to the national title. After helping the Hogs to the Final Four again in 1995, he was the No. 13 pick of the Sacramento Kings in the 1995 NBA draft. He played for the Kings from 1995-2000, the Toronto Raptors in 2000-2001, the Detroit Pistons (2001-2004) and the Philadelphia 76ers (2001-2002). He was the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year from 2001-2002. He was a member of the Pistons’ 2004 championship team.
“He won several honors not just as a player but as a person with what he did in the communities,” Teague said. “He looks beyond the court.”
Other players to win both an NCAA championship ring and an NBA championship ring include Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Bill Russell, Kareen Abdul-Jabbar, John Havlicek and Isaiah Thomas.
He said he will consider his friend and former teammate Scotty Thurman as an assistant coach.
“We’ve talked about opportunities if they happened,” Williamson said. “In real life, we’re a great tandem. I need people with experience but I’m not gonna hire assistants out of friendship or obligation. I want people who I know will get the job done. I’m not going to consider those people who have one foot in and one foot out.”
He said his teams will play an exciting style of basketball, not unlike the way Nolan Richardson’s teams played at Arkansas when Williamson played.
“I hate watching paint dry,” he said. “We’ll play fullcourt. I’ll like fast breaks and slam dunks. Practices are supposed to be hard and the game is supposed to be fun.”
Teague said Williamson will have a three-year contract at the same level as Chappell, $110,000 per year.
“I’m as committed to this,” he said. “I had the same commitment as I had as a player.”