Brad Brownell is thriving in the modern age of college athletics

While some in college sports are retiring, going to the pros, or taking demotions to join power programs, other coaches are finding success in the age of the portal and NIL. Brad Brownell appears to be one of them.
Mar 27, 2024; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Clemson Tigers head coach Brad Brownell
Mar 27, 2024; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Clemson Tigers head coach Brad Brownell / Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Clemson Men’s Basketball head coach Brad Brownell is at the highest point of his long tenure at the university. On the court, the team is coming off their best finish in decades with an appearance in the Elite 8, a feat that hadn’t been accomplished since Bill Foster was the head coach in 1980.

This offseason, Brownell has brought in four transfer players to join the team for 2024-25: Viktor Lakhin, Jeaden Zackery, Christian Reeves, and Myles Foster, who just announced his commitment today.

With regards to numbers, the Tigers have replaced what they lost in the portal following the departures of Jack Clark, RJ Godfrey, Josh Beadle, and Alex Hemenway. In the big picture, the Tigers' incoming transfers appear to be better overall than the departures.

This is especially true when one considers that Hemenway barely played last season. 2023 transfer Jake Heidbreder also didn’t play but will be returning this season.

If we could apply the same polling system we use with public office, Brownell would likely have the highest approval ratings of his career right now.

This is notable considering that so many in college sports are not happy with the way they have changed in the past 6-7 years.

Brownell’s counterpart with Clemson Football, head coach Dabo Swinney, has been peppered with questions in press conferences and interviews about the absence of transfers this season. He has commented on how the timetable for college football coaches has been reduced to almost zero downtime. Former Texas A&M and Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher echoed those sentiments recently during an interview with Sirius XM.

College basketball is in a similar place. The retirements of legends like Mike Krzyzewski and Roy Williams are thought to be closely related to the changing landscape of college sports. It is also thought to be involved with the early retirement of Jay Wright, who had won two NCAA championships. Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo is traditionally thought to be Swinney’s contemporary in men’s basketball, strongly preferring high school recruiting over the portal.

With the amount of disgruntlement among the fans of college sports with the changes in college sports, the negative stories often take the lead. The names out there in the coaching ranks who appear to be thriving in the new world of the transfer portal and NIL is often overlooked, and it isn't always the young guns who have adapted the best.

In college football, coaches like Mike Norvell, Lane Kiffin, Mario Cristobol, and Ryan Day have found their grooves with transfer recruiting. They will need to prove that they can maintain success from season to season, but they have a lot of positive momentum right now.

The same can be said of multiple coaches in men’s basketball. New coaches at Louisville, Kentucky, and USC have quickly turned over their rosters. Mike Woodson at Indiana, who has been on the hot seat since he arrived in Bloomington, has reached into the portal to give his program a makeover. Even veteran coaches like Rick Pitino, John Calipari, and Jim Larranaga have used the portal for positive improvements this offseason.

As with football, these coaches/programs must prove they can sustain the success they achieve initially, but we are starting to see that there are two sides to this coin. Some coaches are retiring, leaving for jobs in the pros, or taking demotions/pay cuts to move to power programs. Other coaches appear to thriving in the new world of college athletics.

Brownell appears to be one of those coaches who are built for this business model of college sports. He used the portal to positively enhance the squad he had returning around PJ Hall last spring. This offseason, he appears to have done the same to build around Chase Hunter.

Hunter still needs to make it official that he will return, but assuming he does, this team looks on paper like a worthy successor to the 2023-34 squad. Two very good seasons back-to-back will be a great start for Brownell to show a proof of concept on how to build a team in modern college sports.