Clemson Basketball: Comparing Brad Brownell to Tiger coaches all-time

OMAHA, NE - MARCH 23: Head coach Brad Brownell of the Clemson Tigers reacts against the Kansas Jayhawks during the second half in the 2018 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament Midwest Regional at CenturyLink Center on March 23, 2018 in Omaha, Nebraska. The Kansas Jayhawks defeated the Clemson Tigers 80-76. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
OMAHA, NE - MARCH 23: Head coach Brad Brownell of the Clemson Tigers reacts against the Kansas Jayhawks during the second half in the 2018 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament Midwest Regional at CenturyLink Center on March 23, 2018 in Omaha, Nebraska. The Kansas Jayhawks defeated the Clemson Tigers 80-76. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images) /

Now that Clemson basketball’s 2018-19 season has come to an end, there’s a lot of chatter about the Tigers’ head coach.

The 2018-19 Clemson basketball season was certainly disappointing.

The Tigers had four seniors returning in Marcquise Reed, Shelton Mitchell, Elijah Thomas and David Skara, as well as a talented group of young guys led by Aamir Simms and Clyde Trapp Jr.

Even with that returning talent, Clemson lost several close games in the ACC- including games against NC State, UNC, Miami and Louisville by two points or less- and missed the NCAA Tournament despite being considered a top-6 or top-7 team in the conference coming into the season.

Clemson was a No. 2 seed in the NIT Tournament, but the Tigers were eliminated in the second round by Wichita State in a game where they were just outplayed.

With the disappointment of the season comes backlash towards to the coaching staff. There’s a contingent of Clemson basketball fans that are ready for a change. There’s also a group that wants to see Brad Brownell stay for a couple more years to see if he can build on what he has built.

No matter where you stand, there are stats and circumstances that should be remembered when considering the Brad Brownell era. Here’s how he stacks up with the rest of the Clemson basketball coaches all-time.

With these stats, we’re going to stay in the modern era (1970 and beyond). Since 1970, Clemson has had a total of seven coaches counting Brad Brownell. In that time, here’s a look at their winning percentages:

Winning Percentages:

  • Oliver Purnell .611
  • Rick Barnes .607
  • Bill Foster .595
  • Cliff Ellis .580
  • Brad Brownell .573
  • Tates Locke .455
  • Larry Shyatt .455

Of course, you also have to take into account that the coaches before Brownell didn’t have to play Louisville, Notre Dame, Syracuse or Pittsburgh. Some didn’t even have to face Miami, Virginia Tech, Boston College, or even Florida State.

Even so, Brownell’s winning percentage is a bit lower than some of his predecessors, but it’s basically right on par with them and he’s had several more years. There’s just not a big different between a .595 winning percentage (Bill Foster) and a .573 winning percentage.

As a matter of fact, if Brownell had won three more games, he’d be ahead of Cliff Ellis with a .584 winning percentage, but we’re not going to live in hypothetical.

One must also take into account that Brownell played in the worst facilities in the ACC- even worse than Virginia Tech- for the first few years of his tenure and then played a season of home games 40 minutes away from Clemson in Greenville.

Oliver Purnell, the coach with the highest winning percentage in modern Clemson basketball history, left Tiger Town, in part, because of the poor facilities.


  • Tates Locke (0 NCAA Tournament bids)– 5 years
  • Bill Foster (1 NCAA Tournament bid, Elite 8)—9 years
  • Cliff Ellis (2 NCAA Tournament bids, ACC title)—10 years *Does not include wins later vacated by NCAA*
  • Rick Barnes (3 NCAA Tournament bids, Sweet-16)—4 years
  • Larry Shyatt (O NCAA Tournament bids)—6 years
  • Oliver Purnell (3 NCAA Tournament bids)—7 years
  • Brad Brownell (2 NCAA Tournament bids, Sweet-16)—9 years

Clemson, in its history, has only made the NCAA Tournament 12 times. One of those was later vacated (1990). There have been a few coaches to have success that probably exceeds what Brad Brownell has done in his tenure.

Those include Cliff Ellis (who was later found to be cheating), Rick Barnes (who left for a job at Texas) and Oliver Purnell (who never won a game in the NCAA Tournament and left to coach DePaul because of frustration with Clemson basketball).

So, the point I’m seeing here from looking back at history is the fact that Clemson basketball hasn’t been able to retain an elite coach in the modern era (1970 and beyond) of College Basketball. Perhaps the Tigers could’ve lured Barnes to stay with more money, but there’s no guaranteeing anything in that situation. It’s clear he didn’t want Clemson to be his end-place.

Purnell did a great job running that full-court press system and playing to the advantages he could find, but he never won a single game in the NCAA Tournament. I’d also argue that the game has changed a lot just in the last half-decade. Players are better at breaking the press with much more skill ball-handling and passing.

That system would work against mid-tier or lower-tier teams, but you were never going to consistently compete or beat teams like Duke or UNC, but one could make the argument that Clemson isn’t competing with those teams now, either.

What about the disappointment of 2018-19?

Honestly, it’s a tough situation.

I completely understand both sides of the coin. I understand the people that see what Brownell has built and those that are hopeful he can build a program with new facilities now in his grasp.

I also understand the people that believe the program needs a fresh start, or a chance to start over. The only problem I have with this group of people is the fact that many don’t want to admit anything is wrong, except with Brownell. If Marcquise Reed hits those free throws against NC State, the Tigers win the game.

If Shelton Mitchell and Reed don’t go 1-of-18 from two-point range against the Wolfpack in the ACC Tournament, the Tigers win that game. If Elijah Thomas doesn’t get in foul trouble early in some of these other games, perhaps the Tigers win one or two.

If that happens, you make the NCAA Tournament and we’re having a completely different discussion.

It’s not all coaching. Sometimes things just don’t go your way. It’s a tough pill to swallow, for sure, but the disappointment of this past season doesn’t just rest on the shoulders of Brad Brownell.

What will happen?

This is the most important section of this article, in my opinion.

After looking at the history of the program and this past season, Brownell isn’t far off with the average of what Clemson basketball has historically been. As a matter of fact, he may actually be a little better.

With that being said, the Tigers will require more in the coming seasons and next year doesn’t look promising with Reed, Thomas, Mitchell and David Skara all graduating.

I still believe Brownell will be the coach of this program for at least another season, so I’d encourage Tiger nation to get behind him and support the team no matter what your opinion is. There are some good things happening and recruiting is starting to pick up.

Next. 4-star Paul Tchio's star-rating should rise. dark

It’s not as easy to build a basketball program at Clemson as it is with football or baseball, despite what many may want to believe. Hopefully he can rebound and make strides next season, perhaps surprising the naysayers and taking a step towards a viable program.