Corliss Williamson had a full plate waiting as he began his first day on campus Monday as University of Central Arkasnas’ new men’s basketball coach.
"It was more like a buffet," he said, chuckling. "There was logistics, meeting people, learning the campus, more meetings about NCAA regulations and retention, meeting players, planning recruiting. It was like being in a hurricane. My head was spinning all day. Dr. (athletic director) Brad Teague called later in the day to see how I was doing. I told him I would feel better once my head had a chance to reset."
He told his wife, Michelle, he would be home about 4.
"I got in about 7," he said. "But she’s very understanding. We had prepared ourselves for this and we know there will be an adjustment period. She understands this is a calling for me. But it’s a family calling. I got my hugs and kisses from the kids and that made it better."
Tuesday, Williamson was on the road recruiting that would extend most of the week. If everyone currently in the UCA program stays, he has three scholarships to offer.
He’s working with a passion for both this year and the future. It’s a mission based on high principles.
"There are a lot of great things about this job," he said. "Michelle and I prayed about this opportunity and we feel that God has given me this opportunity to share my gifts with other people. I have three boys. People have asked me if I wanted girls. I’ve told them that God has a reason he wants me to raise boys. It’s because it’s my calling to be a mentor to young men."
During a phone interview while Williamson took a break from the road trip, he answered a series of questions about his initial experience on the job at UCA.
Q: What about the UCA job struck a chord that you decided to pursue it so passionately?
A: Coaching in Divsion I is a dream of mine and I wanted to stay in Arkansas. I felt that UCA being eligible for postseason play was a tremendous opportunity. I think with the style of play we’re going to play, I felt we have an excellent chance to compete in our conference. I was familiar with the tradition of UCA. When I was growing up in Russellville during UCA’s NAIA days, I remember UCA having some great teams that competed for national championships.
Q: Have the challenges of transition to the new job gone as expected?
A: I’m learning on the job but I liked it this way. I’ve always liked to jump out and get a feel for everything. I have been impressed with the people at UCA. Everyone has been willing to be patient and make the transition smooth. It’s affirming to see how willing people are to help make the transition.
Q: With your knowledge of the program so far, is there anything that is a top priority?
A: No. 1 we have to get more Arkansas kids in the program. I’m a big advocate of doing things with kids from your home area. I know we’ll have to go out of state for some recruits, but there is a lot of talent in the state and we need to consistently be a solid presence in Arkansas. Through the years I’ve been disappointed to hear of kids from Arkansas going out of state.
Q: Your initial analysis of the current team?
A: I think we have to be a little more disciplined. I know we’re gonna have to be in better shape to play the type of game (fullcourt, up-tempo) I want to play. Conditioning is going to be very important when these players get back from spring break. I’m committed to that.
Q: You said you envisioned that UCA could be one of the next mid-major programs to make at impact on the national scene. Is that true?
A: I remember when I was playing, Gonzaga started showing up in the tournament and I remember asking, ‘Who are they?’ Then, they started pulling upsets and advancing in the NCAA tournament. I would like for Central Arkansas to be considered that type of team, one that if it makes the tournament, there would be a lot of excitement about what it could do and whether it might pull and upset or two or how far it could go. I want to get something like that going with Arkansas players.
Q: What are the characteristics of players you are looking for to help build your program?
A: Just like an SEC player, I want athleticism. It is one thing to be athletic. it’s another to be athletic and skilled and that is what separates the really good players. I know everyone who will come into the program will be polished. Player development will be a major part of the program.
Q: You’ve consistently described this job as a calling. When did you first realize that you may be called to be a college basketball coach?
A: When I started coaching an AAU team about five years ago. To be able to mentor those kids and talking with them about off-court issues and helping them develop. I started thinking, ‘Hey, this might be my next step in life, my next calling. I even remember late in my NBA career, I started working with some of the backups and younger players who were coming up and helped them adapt to the NBA. I really like that.
Q: What did you learn your three years at Arkansas Baptist?
A: What better place to start than to work under coach Rip (Charles Ripley, athletic director and Hall of Fame Arkansas high school coach). He knows so much about basketball but also he’s been a father figure to so many kids. He’s helped so many kids. He taught me a lot. Then, I learned a lot from Dr. Fitz Hill (ABC president). His ideas for building and transforming a community were inspirational.
Q: What do you know about the Southland Conference?
A: Not a whole lot, mostly from looking at some video. There doesn’t appear to be a whole lot of size in the conference. Most teams look like they are basically halfcourt teams on offense and defense. I think the style I want to play will be very effective in that conference, just like the style we played at Arkansas when I played was effective in the SEC.
Q: Have any of your former teammates contacted you?
A: All of them. I’ve gotten all kinds of phone calls. They knew I wanted this opportunity. They’re definitely happy and proud for me.
Q: As a Division I coach, will you be watching the NCAA tournament differently this year?
A: Not necessarily. For the last few years, knowing I wanted to be a coach, I’ve tried to watch the games from that perspective. I’ve picked up a lot of things from watching different coaches and their tendencies, particularly what they do in the last two minutes of a game. I’m consistently trying to learn. I look at games now from a student perspective, trying to learn all I can. I’ve been fortunate to have been around a lot of great coaches and I’ve tried to pick the brain of everyone I’ve encountered.