Two Atlanta Sports Legends to Remember

Two Atlanta sports legends. One sadly passed away Sunday night, the other retired Monday. The former – Furman Bisher, long-time sports editor and journalist for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. The latter – Bobby Cremins, by far the most successful basketball coach in the history of Georgia Tech.

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Mr. Bisher passed away at the age of 93. As a quick side point, he actually lived in the Atlanta suburban town I grew up in – Fayetteville. Although I think he moved there after I left home in 1989. He was also left-handed, like me. And given my interest in both sports and writing/talking about sports, clearly Bisher is someone I hold in high esteem! For my Texas friends and sports fans, Bisher was to Atlanta and Georgia what Blackie Sherrod was to Dallas and Texas.

I mentioned on the ‘About Greg’ page of my website that starting at a very young age I would sprawl out on the floor of my family room and read the sports section of the daily AJC paper almost cover to cover. Reading the Bisher column was always the first priority. Bisher worked for the Atlanta papers since 1950, for over 60 years. So not hyperbole to say I was one of three generations of readership who looked forward to those columns. Actually more generations than that, if you count the grandparents and great-grandparents reading in the 1950′s through the kids reading in the 2000′s. (If kids read newspapers anymore, that is.)

I never met Bisher, so let me “turn over the blog” to those who did work with him and know him best:

Remembrances from many sports legends – http://www.ajc.com/sports/bisher-a-writer-remembered-1391085.html

Mark Bradley – http://blogs.ajc.com/mark-bradley-blog/2012/03/19/driving-mr-bisher-a-car-ride-to-clemson-that-changed-one-life/

Jeff Schultz – http://blogs.ajc.com/jeff-schultz-blog/2012/03/19/furman-bisher-we-lost-a-legend-i-lost-a-friend/

Article featuring his relationship with Georgia Tech – http://www.ramblinwreck.com/sports/m-footbl/spec-rel/031912aab.html

Also, here is a poignant column written by Bisher in 2000 after one of his three sons passed away at the age of 44 – http://www.ajc.com/sports/bisher-i-saw-him-159002.html

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And then there is Bobby Cremins. He announced his retirement yesterday, from his basketball coaching position at College of Charleston, at the age of 64. Over 31 years of coaching (6 at Appalachian State, 19 at Georgia Tech and 6 at College of Charleston), Cremins compiled a 579-375 record. In that time he won his conference’s Coach of the Year award 7 times (4 with Southern Conference, 3 with ACC) and the National Coach of the Year award once.

Cremins grew up in The Bronx, a fact made very clear whenever you heard him speak. But he came South for college to play basketball for the legendary Frank McGuire at The University of South Carolina. He never left the South after that. He became a head coach in 1975 at Appalachian State at the age of 27, one of the youngest head coaches ever hired at the Division I level.

When Georgia Tech hired Cremins in 1981, Tech had been to one (count them, one) NCAA tournament in its history, way back in 1960. The year before his hire, Tech won 4 games! So Cremins was not joining basketball royalty. And Tech had just joined the ACC, the best basketball conference in the country. So now they had to compete against the likes of North Carolina, Duke, NC State and Maryland, among others. Not fun.

But Cremins worked miracles. He proved to be a great recruiter, using the lure of playing against the best in the ACC, in a media hub like Atlanta, to his advantage. His first two key recruits were point guard Mark Price and center John Salley. By their junior season in 1985, Tech tied for first in the ACC regular season, won the ACC tournament title (beating UNC for the third time that season), and made it all the way to the Elite 8 in the NCAA tournament (losing to Patrick Ewing-led Georgetown). They finished that season with a 27-8 record.

In the 12-year period from 1985 to 1996, Tech made the NCAA tournament 10 times, won 3 ACC tournament titles and 2 ACC regular season titles. In those 10 NCAA tournaments, his Tech teams made 5 Sweet 16′s. His 1990 “Lethal Weapon 3″ team with Dennis Scott, Kenny Anderson and Brian Oliver made it all the way to The Final 4. They lost in the national semifinals to UNLV by only 7 points, after leading at halftime. That UNLV team (with Larry Johnson, Stacey Augmon and Greg Anthony) went on to beat Duke by 30 in the national championship game two nights later.

When Cremins joined the ACC coaching ranks, Dean Smith of UNC was the clear dean (pun intended) of ACC coaches. Lefty Driesell at Maryland and Terry Holland at Virginia were also established. But three new coaches helped change the face of the ACC in the early 80′s, all new to their schools - Mike Krzyzewski at Duke, Jim Valvano at NC State, and Cremins at Georgia Tech. Krzyzewski went on to become the all-time winningest coach in college basketball history, and Valvano is famous not only for winning an NCAA title in 1983 but also for establishing the Jimmy V Foundation for cancer research before he sadly died of that disease in 1993. But Cremins always seems to be forgotten from the amazing group of coaches in the ACC from the mid-80′s to the mid-90′s. Those were the glory days of the conference, and the fact that Cremins’ Tech teams competed well against both UNC and Duke during those years was no small part of the reason. The ACC today unfortunately seems to fall into a two-horse race most years. Great for UNC and Duke, but not the other teams.

And check out this list of names that went on to the NBA under Cremins – Mark Price, John Salley, Duane Ferrell, Tom Hammonds, Dennis Scott, Kenny Anderson, Jon Barry, Travis Best, Stephon Marbury, Matt Harpring. Tech during Cremins’ reign produced as many NBA players and stars as any school in the country. Cremins was an excellent recruiter. He was often accused of not being the best “x’s and o’s” bench coach, but I think he was underrated in this regard. He always played a short bench, usually having only 7 players and sometimes only 6 rotate amongst the 5 playing on the court at one time. (The typical rotation has 8 or 9 players.) This meant that all of his best players knew they would play a lot. And Cremins let them showcase their skills, vs. over-scripting formations and play calls.

But above all else, his players loved him. He was always enthusiastic, positive to a fault, and completely endearing to fans, media and colleagues. I don’t know if there has ever been a (successful) coach who had unanimous endearment from his coaching competitors like Cremins did.

Cremins retired once before. He took a 6-year sabbatical 2000-06, after leaving Tech and before hiring on with College of Charleston. (Me being on my current sabbatical, I can relate!) This time, however, I’m 99% sure (never say never) that Bobby has retired for good.

Bobby – I cheered for you and your teams from the stands many a night while at Tech 1989-94. I wish you the best in your retirement!

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