Cliff Warren probably will work his last home game as JU’s head basketball coach Saturday night when the Dolphins play host to South Carolina-Upstate in Swisher Gym. All the signs are there that the end is near for the school’s all-time leader in victories.
Little attention will be made of this and therein lays the biggest problem. Little attention is paid to the once proud and mighty basketball Dolphins, period. Crowds of barely 1,000 generally show up for games, most played in the spacious Jacksonville Arena. Maybe 100 people showed up for a New Year’s Day game at Swisher. Trust me, that doesn’t help with the budget or in recruiting.
There are other issues, of course. JU is winding up its third straight losing season and athletic director Brad Edwards already has established a track record of cleaning house in just 18 months on the job.
It doesn’t help Warren that he’s far more comfortable with a whistle around his neck coaching than he is bouncing from one civic club and booster meeting to another promoting his program. Nor is he the guy who is going to entertain the media with stories and keep his face and that of JU’s basketball program in front of the public.
So, yes, I understand why JU is saying goodbye to Warren after nine years.
But understand this: Whoever coaches at JU has a difficult task. Small private schools with limited budgets and mediocre facilities force their coaches to wear many hats. As a recruiter the JU coach has to find the hidden gems . . . then convince them to come to JU . . . and then develop them into Division 1 players.
Warren has had his share of success at JU, proof of his coaching ability. He took over a mess of a program but, starting with his second year, he had five straight winning seasons. There were a couple of conference championships and back-to-back 20-win seasons, remarkable achievements for a program such as JU’s. Along the way his Dolphins had victories against Florida, Auburn and Arizona State.
I should also loudly point out that Warren is a good man who has an incredible record graduating his players and there’s no hint of scandal under his watch.
He knows his days are limited but he has no trouble sleeping at night because he proudly says, “I’ve fulfilled all the promises I made to my players’ parents.”
How many coaches can say that?
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