Clayton State nearing end of coaching search

Special Photo
Clayton State athletics director Carl McAloosa

Special Photo Clayton State athletics director Carl McAloosa

MORROW — NCAA Men’s basketball tournament bracket watchers who cringe at the name of Florida Gulf Coast University may want to turn that frown upside down.

Especially if you’re a fan of Clayton State men’s basketball.

Athletic Director Carl McAloose is entering into the home stretch of his coaching search to replace former Lakers’ coach Gordon Gibbons. But this isn’t his first time pulling the trigger on such a decision.

Before McAloose came to Clayton State, he left a nine-year tenure at — that’s right — Florida Gulf Coast.

In fact, he was the former junior college’s first AD, who made the school’s first basketball coach hire — one that would prove as a foundation setter for the school’s recent tournament success.

“It was just a bunch of woods when I first started there,” said McAloose of his FGCU experience. “I was really given a blank sheet of paper with the instructions to go and build something great.”

A piece of that puzzle to greatness was the hiring of Dave Balza who’s tenure, McAloose said, helped to establish some of the grounds for FGCU’s 2013 Sweet 16 NCAA tournament run.

Balza, who coached there from 2002-11, was responsible for recruiting five of the players on the current FGCU roster.

And after watching the Eagles capture the imagination of a sports nation that loves a good Cinderella story, McAloose said he takes their success personally.

“Of course I feel like I shared in that,” he said. “I’m so happy for them. They are getting the notoriety that they deserve. It’s an amazing story. It wasn’t even a university 15 years ago. But we were able to build some success there, and they’ve continued since I’ve been gone.”

And now McAloose would like to extend his knack for hiring program elevating coaches at Clayton State. When he began at FGCU, his vision was to make the men’s basketball program become “the Gonzaga of the South.”

But it didn’t just stop there.

“We didn’t want it to just be about basketball,” he said. “We wanted to be the Old Dominion of the South in women’s basketball, the Cal State-Fullerton of baseball.”

McAloose said the same vision applies for Clayton State — already considered one of the more successful NCAA Div. II athletic programs in the nation.

“Here’s what we have here at Clayton,” he said. “We have a tradition here that we didn’t have in Fort Meyers. We have an area in the Atlanta metro that everyone knows. It’s a recruiting oasis and a hotbed that people all over have heard about. We can draw from all over the world because of that.

“There’s no reason for us to not be top ten every with opportunities across the board to win national championships.”

McAloose is replacing a coach in Gibbons who is one of the winningest active coaches in Div. II. He said they have narrowed down the pool of applicants from 198, to 50, to 10. McAloose said he expected to be busy over the weekend finishing phone interviews from the candidates who have experiences ranging from Division I head coaches to Div. II assistants.

Next week, he is hoping to bring in “at least three to five candidates” for personal interviews and then make a final decision after that.

At this point in the search, McAloose said it comes down more to a coach’s being the right fit for the university rather than any X’s and O’s.

“Truthfully with any of these 10 we have now, we could pick any of them and feel we have a coach capable of winning Peach Belt Conference and national championships on this level,” he said. “But we want to make sure we choose someone who has great chemistry with his other constituents and coaches.”

McAloose said that each candidate knows his lofty expectations for Lakers men’s basketball.

“We’re already one of the top five Div. II programs in the country,” he said. “But I see in the next two to five years that we should start winning some more conference and national championships. You gradually bring in two or three different kids than you have now, and you’re competitive. We’re not that far away.”