Setting the Coast “A-Buzz”
He was the coach with the perfect pedigree.Won a national title as a player. Close friends with the greatest player ever. Played for one of the best coaches ever. Became an assistant coach at a major conference school. Coached at an up-and-coming program for a year, leading them to the NIT Title. A hot candidate for a number of job openings.
Hired to lead a “BCS” program to the promised land. Tasted success early. Fell upon troubled times. Began alienating players. Faced disgruntled alumni. Lost his job.
Took over a small program in a warm-weather city. Quietly trying to establish tradition and prestige with his new program. Winning over fans, building local support, and even winning a few games along the way. Optimistic about his return to coaching.
The story is so familiar to all of us by now. Matt Doherty, the much maligned former coach at the University of North Carolina, has now returned to coaching at Florida Atlantic University. “Yeah, we already know this story,” you say. But who said anything about Matt Doherty?
This story is about Buzz Peterson.
Forgotten in the surprising success of the Tennessee Volunteers’ 2005-2006 season is the man who coached this team for the last four years. This is just one of the many similarities between Peterson’s tenure in Knoxville and Doherty’s in Chapel Hill.
However, Peterson’s story deserves highlighting of its own.
Peterson served under former NC State head coach Les Robinson, before becoming head coach at Appalachian State University and the University of Tulsa. Peterson was brought in at Tennessee under much fanfare as the young man destined to take the Volunteer basketball program to proverbial “the next level.” Jerry Green was fired after one the more successful stretches in school history, as he was deemed incapable of winning a National Championship. Eyebrows were raised across the college basketball landscape, but Peterson was a hot candidate, fresh off the NIT Championship in 2001 at Tulsa.
Long story short, he recruited fairly well, and had some noteworthy wins at Tennessee. The players currently striving for an SEC title are all Peterson’s recruits. He landed Kentucky’s Mr. Basketball, the underrated Chris Lofton, two years ago. He added to that highly-recruited prospects C.J. Watson and Major Wingate, along with UCLA transfer Andre Patterson. He coached Ron Slay to SEC Player of the Year honors in the 2003-2004 season. Six players total earned SEC All-Conference honors in his four years. Last season ended with a 14-17 record. After two NIT bids and no NCAA tournament bids, with a record of 61 wins and 59 losses, Peterson was asked to leave Tennessee.
Buzz Peterson ended up at Coastal Carolina University. Where? CCU. Where is that exactly? Conway, South Carolina. The Coastal Carolina Chanticleers. The nickname “chanticleers,” for all those wondering, is taken from Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, in which the Chanticleer is “a proud rooster who dominates the barnyard.” CCU was closely associated with the University of South Carolina Gamecocks until becoming an independent university in 1993; hence the fighting chicken mascot.
After this brief digression into barnyard etymology, I come to the point of this article:
Buzz Peterson is a good basketball coach and a good man.
Somebody obviously thought Buzz Peterson was a good coach at one point; in fact, a lot of people did. And they were right.
Buzz Peterson can still coach. Throughout the recent Tennessee-Florida battle, the announcers heaped praise on Bruce Pearl, and with good reason. He is an outstanding coach, motivator, and recruiter. However, this praise was followed by criticism of Buzz Peterson. Similar criticism has appeared on various internet outlets, as if praising Pearl is not complete without bashing Peterson.
Lost in all the hype surrounding Pearl’s reinvigoration of the Volunteers is that Peterson is doing a fine job at Coastal Carolina this season. Granted, a 9-9 record is not going to win any championships. Unless the Chants win the Big South tournament this season, they will not be doing any sort of dance come March. Yet, for a program that has had only eleven winning seasons in thirty years and has been to the NCAA Tournament a grand total of twice, 9-9 ain’t half bad (Coastal did win four straight Big South regular season titles in the late 80’s and early 90’s).
The Chants recently upset Gregg Marshall’s Winthrop Eagles, the odds-on favorite to earn the Big South’s bid to the NCAA tournament. It looks like things are quietly turning around at CCU. Coach Peterson himself is very excited about the prospect of success at CCU and on his role as its leader.
“It is my job to make sure that I get the men’s basketball program to where people get excited about it and come out and watch it,” Coach Peterson has said. “What made this job so appealing was the potential here at Coastal was just exploding.” Clearly Coach Peterson has the right attitude and enthusiasm to turn the Chanticleers not only into a mascot that we all recognize, but into an NCAA tournament participant as well.
Much praise is due Coach Pearl and his Tennessee team this season. He has done a remarkable job in winning everyone in Knoxville over in a short period of time. However, much like Matt Doherty did at North Carolina, it was Peterson who built this team and left his guys for someone else to coach to the top. When you hear Clark Kellogg, Billy Packer, and others singing the praises of the Volunteers this March, just remember to give ol’ Buzz a little credit for assembling such a talented basketball team.
And don’t be surprised to hear those same talking heads spouting the praises of Buzz Peterson’s latest project, er, team in the NCAA Tournament in a March to come.