Second chances don’t come along too often.
For Charlton Young, becoming Georgia Southern’s next head basketball coach is his chance to finish what he started in the early nineties as a player.
He remembers the Trans-Atlantic Athletic Conference championship, the trip to the NCAA tournament and the “glory days” of being an Eagle.
He also remembers the losses.
“Nothing was going to really keep me from taking this job,” said Young after an emotional introductory press conference on the GSU campus Thursday morning. “I needed the opportunity to come home and right my wrongs. I still wake up in a cold sweat thinking, ‘How in the hell did we lose to East Tennessee State in overtime?’
“You don’t get many second chances in life, and now I’ve got a chance to come back and really have some control over the program — right my wrongs so to speak.”
It was his time as a player that steered him into the coaching profession. Fueled by the dream of bringing Georgia Southern basketball back to the top, he learned all he could from his years at Auburn, Northeastern, Jacksonville, Chattanooga and Georgia Tech. Now he feels he’s finally ready to take that next step.
“I’ve been in this business for 15 years, and the sole reason I decided to coach was to be head coach at ‘The’ Georgia Southern University — the sole reason,” said Young. “As you can tell by my emotion, this is definitely a dream come true.”
There were some hurdles in Young’s path back to Statesboro. He was already known as one of the nation’s top recruiters, but after he was released by Auburn in 2004, he needed a chance to prove he knew what he was doing on the court as well.
He looked to the Southern Conference for that chance.
“I was coming off a tough situation, being released at Auburn,” said Young. “I told (UTC coach John Shulman) that I wanted a chance to show people that I was more than just a recruiter, that I could coach the game. Sometimes when you’re good at recruiting — which is a necessary evil — sometimes what’s overlooked is your ability to teach young men, get them better and really teach the game. He stepped up and gave me the opportunity to be associate head coach, and we won the Southern Conference title.”
Now that GSU is Young’s program, he has his sights set on a championship — something that has eluded the Eagles since they joined the SoCon in 1992. He believes he’s the best man for the job. His history with the team plays a big part in that.
“I love ‘The’ Georgia Southern University,” Young said. “There may be some better coaches out there in the country — I said may be — but one thing I know for sure (is that) there is not a better coach in the country for ‘The’ Georgia Southern University. I’ve got blood, sweat and tears on that floor, and I remember what it was. I’m going to fight and fight and fight until I get it back to that.”
The first step — get the community excited about the team again. He plans to spend a lot of time around town getting people fired up.
“The first issue I have with the City of Statesboro — we’ve got to get some fannies in those seats,” he said. “I’m going to be everywhere until I get 45-hundred in those seats. I promise you this — 45-hundred in Hanner Fieldhouse sounds like a tornado.”
The next step — instill a championship attitude. Young’s philosophy is that “championship people win championships.”
“I was about 6-foot-2, 147-pounds (as a player),” he said, “but I applied myself to being a tough guy — a guy who applied the first blow, a guy who played every game like it was his last. That’s the way I’m going to coach, and that’s the way I’m going to expect our young men to play.”
Young feels that as head coach, his responsibilities go beyond teaching the players the game. He has to be the CEO of the program.
After three suspensions, an NCAA investigation into the program, an 8-22 season and the resignation of 10-year coach Jeff Price, Young wants to start rebuilding from the inside. The changes won’t be too dramatic in the style of play, but he looks for a monumental change in attitude.
“I don’t think they’ll have to relearn,” he said. “I think they’ll have to re-commit. They’re beat down right now, and they should be, but I’m going to come in and show them the light at the end of the tunnel. We have some pieces. Now I’ve just got to go in and make them believe again — teach them the direct correlation between preparation and success.”
Young’s hiring also marked a historic moment for the university. Former GSU player Roger Moore was the first black athlete offered a scholarship in the history of the University System of Georgia, and now Young has become the basketball program’s first black head coach.
“It blows me away,” he said. “I’m so proud to be that guy. I’m also proud of our university for taking that step. The flip-side of it is I’m more ecstatic about being the best candidate.”
Being the best candidate means that the expectations are high. Young expects nothing less then the best for the Eagles, but knows it won’t happen immediately.
“I’m not standing up here claiming to be the great Messiah that’s going to change it overnight,” he said. “I understand that we live in a microwave generation where everybody wants things in 30 seconds, but the best meal takes a little bit of time to prepare. I just want to make sure it doesn’t take too long.”
It all starts with the right student-athletes.
“Sometimes you can be talented, but you’re not a player,” said Young. “Sometimes you have no talent, but you’re a player. I’m going to be looking for players. I’m going to field a championship first with attitude. Off the court we’re going to do the right thing, and we’re going to win a championship before we ever step out on the floor by what we’re doing every day. That will get us a championship.”
Matt Yogus can be reached at (912) 489-9404.