Gary Edwards Column
When my Francis Marion University men’s basketball team hosts Clayton State this weekend, it will be my 1000th game as a collegiate head coach. When our long-time sports information director, Mike Hawkins, informed me of this milestone, my response was, “I am an old person.”
But not really. I just got an early start, and I have been lucky enough through the years to navigate the minefields of this profession successfully.
When I was in the ninth grade at Norfolk Collegiate School in Norfolk, Virginia, Coach Larry Riggs brought me up to the varsity for the season ending Tidewater Conference Tournament. The Oaks upset the heavily favored Norfolk Catholic Crusaders and I was hooked…I knew what I wanted to do with my life.
I continued my playing career at Virginia Wesleyan College under Coach Don Forsyth. He hired me as Sports Information Director/Head Junior Varsity Coach/ Assistant Varsity Coach the day after I graduated.
After three years, my good friend Bob Valvano was instrumental in helping me land an assistant coaching job at Hofstra University. A conversation I had with the athletic director there at the time, Bob Getchell, paved the way for my future plans.
I asked him his opinion on the best way to rise in the coaching profession. He said, “Gary, you can be an assistant and ride someone else’s coattails, or you can get a program of your own and make your own mark.”
The latter choice appealed to me, so I applied for a job at tiny Atlantic Christian College (now Barton College) in Wilson, North Carolina. The Bulldogs had gone 4-21 the year before, no one else wanted the job, so they hired me as the head coach.
I was 26 years old.
My first game was a thrilling overtime win over UNC-Greensboro on November 16, 1984. And the rest, as they say, is history.
There have been so many memorable games:
Atlantic Christian’s upset of Belmont Abbey to go to the NAIA National Tournament.
Point-guard Eric Burks hitting a last-second shot to give Charleston Southern the 1995 Big South Championship and the Buccaneers beating UNLV at UNLV the following year
Indiana University of Pennsylvania earning multiple trips to the NCAA Division II Elite Eight.
And I would have to rank this week’s win at #4 ranked USC-Aiken by the Francis Marion University men’s basketball team as one of the best, too.
I remember when Bruce Curtis, the Atlantic Christian athletic director, called me to tell me I had the job. I was standing in my basement apartment in Hempstead, New York, and I was listening to James Taylor sing, “Carolina in my Mind”.
Now, 1000 games later, I am still in Carolina doing what I love. And though I have more games behind me than ahead, I believe the best is yet to come.