The Pros and Cons For Clemson’s Brad Brownell

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on February 26th, 2015

Brad Brownell is now in his fifth season at the helm of Clemson’s basketball program, and it appears that this will be the fourth consecutive year under his direction that the Tigers will fail to make the NCAA Tournament. For an ACC coach, a four-year hiatus from the Big Dance typically inspires discussion of the hot seat, so this is a good time to take stock in Brownell’s program and project if he will still be coaching there next season. To help with the analysis we have put together some key data from Clemson’s last eight seasons — including Brownell’s five years and former coach Oliver Purnell’s three years before him. Purnell, now at DePaul, was the head coach at Clemson for seven seasons and exceeded 20 wins in each of his last four years, including one-and-done NCAA Tournament appearances during the last three. Brownell reached the Dance in his first year at Clemson and even won an NCAA Tourney game when he got there (something Purnell could not do), but the program has only had one 20-win season since.

Clemson 8yrTrend

Let’s take a look at some of the pros and cons with Brownell’s tenure at Clemson.


  • Expectations. For the most part Brownell’s squads have met or exceeded expectations in comparison with preseason ACC media predictions. The lone exception was in 2012-13, when Clemson lost 10 of 11 games to close the year and finished with a 13-18 (5-14 ACC) record. The Tigers’ best result versus preseason expectations came the following year when K.J. McDaniels led the Tigers to a surprising 23-win season that included a trip to the NIT semifinals.
  • Off-Court Behavior. Off the court, Brownell and his players have performed well: The coach seems to have an easygoing and cooperative relationship with both fans and media, and there have been no major off-the-floor issues with players or staff with respect to rules compliance. His players are also performing well in the classroom – nine of Brownell’s 10 seniors have graduated.

  • Defense. Most successful programs are built on a solid defensive foundation. Under Brownell’s guidance, the Tigers have perennially ranked among the nation’s leaders in key defensive statistics such as points allowed and opponents’ offensive efficiency. Three Clemson players have made the ACC’s All-Defensive team, including McDaniels, who was voted the ACC DPOY in 2013-14.


Clemson has suffered from a major talent deficit when competing with elite teams in ACC during Brad Brownell's tenure. (Grant Halverson/Getty Images North America)

Clemson has suffered from a major talent deficit when competing with elite teams in ACC during Brad Brownell’s tenure. (Grant Halverson/Getty)

  • Talent Level. The most obvious problem has been a lack of top-end talent that makes it nearly impossible for the Tigers to regularly compete with the ACC’s upper tier. During Brownell’s tenure, Clemson is a combined 1-12 against blue bloods Duke and North Carolina with most of those defeats coming by large margins. Case in point: North Carolina opened ACC play this season with a resounding 24-point win at Clemson, and Duke — even without Jahlil Okafor — whipped the Tigers by 22 last Saturday in Durham. Brownell has only recruited a single player ranked in ESPN’s top-100 in the last five years — the team’s current leading scorer, Jaron Blossomgame, was rated #95 in the class of 2012.
  • Tempo/Style of Play. Another common complaint relates to pace, and Clemson has become one of the nation’s slowest teams during the Brownell regime. As the chart above shows, the Tigers’ scoring output is significantly down compared to the Purnell era, which leads to the perception of an unattractive style of play. That brings us to the next point.
  • Fan Interest. Attendance for Clemson home games has been on the decline and  style of play may be more responsible for that fact than anything else — note that even the relatively successful 2013-14 season didn’t bring out the home fans. Perhaps the upcoming makeover to Littlejohn Coliseum can help Brownell convince Tigers’ faithful to be more engaged with the team in coming years.

On balance, Brad Brownell pros and cons appear to even out. But a coach’s job performance doesn’t exist in a vacuum; it should always be contextualized with the relative position that a school holds in college basketball. Clemson has only been to 11 NCAA Tournaments in its entire history; it has never won the ACC Tournament; and it is not located in a major metropolitan area with a deep talent pool. All things considered, Brownell has done a solid job with what he has on hand and it feels like a breakthrough or two on the recruiting trail would  allow him to mold that talent into an ACC contender. Just look at how well the Tigers did last year when they had just one NBA caliber player on the roster. The Clemson administration seems to be satisfied for now: The school signed Brownell to a new six-year deal last May, which contains a healthy multi-million dollar buyout clause if the school dismisses him. On the other hand, if ACC history is any indication, Brownell needs to get the Tigers back to the Dance in the next year or two, or there could be a new head coach stalking the sidelines in the newly-remodeled Littlejohn Coliseum.

Brad Jenkins (383 Posts)

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One response to “The Pros and Cons For Clemson’s Brad Brownell”

  1. […] Brownell’s run in Clemson can be categorized as bland, fan interest has waned under his watch and so has the pace of play.  Former Clemson Head Coach Oliver Purnell’s pressing style has […]

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