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Eagles' hoops coach has Cremins seal of approval

    Bobby Cremins won 570 basketball games as a head coach at Appalachian State, Georgia Tech and College of Charleston.
    He took Georgia Tech to the Final Four and the Elite Eight of the NCAA tournament, won three Atlantic Coast Conference titles and won a Southern Conference title with App in 1979.
    Needless to say, when Cremins wanted Mark Byington to be offered the job as his successor after he stepped down at Charleston in 2012, it was high praise.
    Byington went 7-4 as the interim coach during the 2011-12 season, but instead of Charleston honoring the wishes of Cremins and offering Byington, they hired Doug Wojcik.
    Byington left the Cougars to take an assistant coach position on Virginia Tech’s staff, and that led him to his first full-time head coaching gig at Georgia Southern.
    “I wanted him to take over for me, but Charleston ended up with a good coach, and it is what it is. Life goes on,” said Cremins, who visited Hanner Fieldhouse on Thursday to see Byington’s last practice before the Eagles open the season today against Columbia International at 7:30 p.m. “I’ve learned more about Georgia Southern today than I did in six years competing here (as Charleston’s coach).”
    Cremins saw Byington’s potential right away when he came out of a six-year retirement to take the job at Charleston in 2006.
    “I had to reacquaint myself with the Southern Conference,” said Cremins, who retired the first time after coaching Georgia Tech from 1981-2000, “and he knew the Southern Conference inside out. He knew recruiting inside out. He helped me to put together a staff. He was the perfect guy for me at that time.”
    The most impressive thing about Byington, said Cremins, was his work ethic.
    “He used to almost kill me,” Cremins said. “I was on the job for a week and he told me about this kid we just had to go see. We drove something like eight hours, and we watched the kid play for a couple hours, and he said, ‘Alright, let’s go home.’ I said, ‘You mean we’re going back now? We’re not spending the night in a hotel?’ He says, ‘Nah, lets go.’ We drove something like 15 hours in one day and it about killed me, but it was nothing to him.”
    Cremins couldn’t be happier to see Byington take over Georgia Southern’s program. He’ll have one chance to do something he and Cremins never did at Charleston —win the SoCon tournament.
    “We won it in the regular season, and we lost in the tournament final three times,” Cremins said. “Our goal was to win that damn thing, and we came up short.”
    Cremins was also a link in the chain that brought Byington to GSU. Tom Kleinlein, who was at Kent State prior to taking over as Georgia Southern’s athletic director in 2012, got his first exposure to Byington in 2012. The Cougars visited Kleinlein’s Kent State team and won, 80-73.
    “Mark coached the team, did a great job, and won the game,” Cremins said. “Tom was so impressed. When he came (to GSU), he called me and said, ‘Look, I’ll never forget that game. Mark beat us on the road.’ I asked Tom what he was looking for in a coach, he told me, and I said, ‘That’s Mark Byington.’ He can be a special coach, and he’s paid his dues as an assistant.”

    Matt Yogus may be reached at (912) 489-9408.