Mark Byington was under the wing of longtime Georgia Tech and College of Charleston men’s basketball coach Bobby Cremins for seven years in Charleston.
After spending the 2012-13 season as an assistant coach at Virginia Tech, Byington was named as the new head coach at Georgia Southern by GSU Athletics Director Tom Kleinlein on Monday at a press conference at the Bishop Field House.
His ties to Cremins were a huge selling point.
"In the words of Bobby Cremins, he said to me, '(Byington is) a nuts-and-bolts guy, and he flat-out tried to kill me with his work ethic every day.' That's my kind of guy," Kleinlein said.
Byington replaces four-year GSU coach Charlton “CY” Young, who was fired after the conclusion of the 2012-13 season. Young was 43-84 in his four years at GSU.
Byington said he met the team for the first time on Monday morning.
"I told them in a meeting (Monday) that they've got to buy in," Byington said. "We've got guys who are rising seniors but have not won here. I told them they've got to try to leave a legacy. They came to school here and they had different aspirations, different goals. I asked each and every one of them, they haven't reached those goals. I want them to have a chip on their shoulder and I want them to be hungry."
Kleinlein said one player from GSU's 2012-13 team has requested a release for transfer since the announcement of the coaching change, but would not comment on which player made the request.
Byington is excited about the roster he has inherited.
"I feel like we're athletic," he said. "I feel like we're versatile, I feel like we can shoot the ball at a decent pace (and) I feel like we have some really good parts to work with."
Byington, 36, has been an assistant at Virginia Tech, Charleston, Virginia and Hargrave Military Academy in his career.
He spent the final month of the 2011-12 season as the interim head coach at Charleston after Cremins resigned for heath reasons. He went 7-4.
He was passed over for the head coaching job at Charleston, a move he referred to as "bittersweet."
Kleinlein expects the same thing from GSU's men's basketball program as he does from every team at the university.
"We'll start evaluating him from day one," Kleinlein said. "How is he going to get the current team to come together? How is he going to get out and spread the word about what we want to do as a basketball program? That starts the evaluation process and eventually leads us to the point where, are we competitive and competing for championships in our conference? It's no different with any sport here. We want to compete for conference championships in every sport."
The Eagles, who will play their final season in the Southern Conference next season before joining the Sun Belt Conference in 2014, have never won a SoCon title. They joined the league in 1993.
Byington said the move to the Sun Belt will help boost GSU's perception and exposure to potential recruits in new areas.
Kleinlein's first exposure to Byington came during his stint as interim coach at Charleston, when Kleinlein was the deputy athletic director at Kent State. Byington's Cougars won on the road at Kent. It stuck with him.
"That memory, plus all the things people were saying about him — his work ethic, the fact that he's a great teacher, a great communicator and a great recruiter," Kleinlein said.
Kleinlein said Byington agreed to a three-year guaranteed contract supplemented by the GSU Athletic Foundation. He did not comment on the amount of either contract.
Byington said he expects to name his staff of assistant coaches soon.
Matt Yogus may be reached at (912) 489-9408.