05/14/08 — Coach says 'it's time' to relinquish reins

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Coach says 'it's time' to relinquish reins

By Rudy Coggins
Published in Sports on May 14, 2008 2:57 PM

MOUNT OLIVE -- Bill Clingan ushered the Mount Olive College men's basketball program into the Division II era and turned the Trojans into a perennial power.

Tuesday afternoon, Clingan said farewell.

Choking back tears on occasion, Clingan delivered an emotional speech before family, friends, former players and alumni. He felt it was time to retire and turn the smooth-sailing program over to another captain -- associate head coach Joey Higginbotham.

"This is probably the most difficult decision I've ever made in my life," said a misty-eyed Clingan. "Our ship will be guided by a new captain, but not an unfamiliar one and this is why I feel comfortable in passing the reins.

"Joey bleeds Mount Olive green. He's a young coach who has endured a lot and sacrificed to live his dream."

Involved with basketball for more than half a century, including 20-plus years at Mount Olive, Clingan plans to remain on campus and pursue other avenues. In addition to basketball, the Southeastern Oklahoma grad serves as associate professor in the recreation and leisure studies department.

Clingan will meet with school President Dr. J. William Byrd in the near future to discuss his options.

"I have embraced basketball all my life and will still embrace it, just from a different angle," said Clingan.

Growing up in Indiana, Clingan's desire to coach basketball started when he was three years old. At that time, there were no separate classifications, so all the schools played for one state championship.

High school gyms were packed to the rafters and every town closed down on game day. Clingan attended games with his best friend, whose father was a high school coach.

"I was able to go with the team, go to practices and identify with the family atmosphere," said Clingan. "With all that hype, it really affected me and that's when I got involved in basketball."

Clingan derived his coaching philosophy by piecing together strategies and other intangibles from the numerous mentors who influenced his life. A former college player, he worked hard to keep the blueprint intact and slowly constructed what is now one of the most-respected men's basketball programs -- regionally and nationally.

Clingan arrived at Mount Olive in 1988 when the school competed in the NAIA ranks. He served as assistant men's basketball coach and head men's tennis coach, and taught classes in the recreation and leisure studies department.

Clingan became the Trojans' head coach in 1990.

While the players struggled to adjust to Clingan's style, the affable coach never wavered in his teachings. He vividly recalled his 1994 team that had seven freshmen, who took their lumps nearly every time they stepped onto the court.

That same group exited as conference champions in 1998.

Clingan eventually collected 325 career wins that include three regular-season conference championships, one tournament title and five consecutive trips to the NCAA East Regional. The Trojans advanced to the Elite Eight in 2005.

During the Division II era, Clingan's teams have averaged 19 wins a season. His last five teams have won 20 or more games and logged a 124-35 worksheet during that time.

"This was a huge decision that I based not only on myself, but some personal things," said Clingan. "I always preach if you can't give your program 100 percent, you can't be part of it. I felt like I could only give about 95 percent right now.

"To take yourself out of a basketball life is very difficult. But I just felt like the program, at this point and time, is in good shape. Coach Higginbotham can hit the ground running."

And continue Clingan's legacy.