Matt McCall hasn't wasted time getting acclimated to the city of Chattanooga.
He's already been to Hennen's -- "I'm a big fan of the shrimp and grits," he said -- and now the real fun begins because he is in the city for a distinct purpose: to be the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga men's basketball coach.
McCall was introduced as the program's 19th head coach Monday in the University Center conference room, in front of a sizable crowd. He was accompanied by his wife Allison and daughter, Brooklyn -- who stole parts of the 90-minute conference with her infectious laugh.
"What a dream come true," he said. "I could not be more excited to be the basketball coach of this great university, to represent this town and these young men. If they ever tell you dreams don't come true, they do. I'm proof of that today."
* Hometown: Ocala, Fla.
* Date of birth: Dec. 12, 1981
* Degrees: Florida, bachelor's in exercise and sports science, 2004; master's in secondary education, 2006
2002-04, Florida student manager
2006-08, Florida director of basketball operations
2008-11, Florida Atlantic assistant coach
2011-14, Florida assistant coach
The 33-year-old coach proved himself to be quite the storyteller. As one example, he told of Florida's run to the 1994 Final Four, when his father -- former Gators linebacker Wayne McCall -- had told the then 12-year-old Matt that if Florida defeated Duke in that game in Charlotte, Wayne was going to fly Matt back to his hometown of Ocala, Fla., and fly Matt's mother to the championship game.
McCall's grooming for the position he now holds started similarly to that of the coach he follows, Will Wade. Both began their careers as student managers -- Wade at Clemson, McCall at Florida. They washed uniforms and did all the other grunt work, meanwhile looking for opportunity to move up the ladder.
McCall was named Florida's director of basketball operations in 2006 and held that position through 2008, after the Gators won a national championship in 2007.
"The hiring of Matt is very special for several reasons," UTC athletic director David Blackburn said. "Matt brings a lot of balance, and the foundation of who he is, and as a person to have the ability to respect himself, his family and those he touches, are important for a lot of things, but most importantly for the players -- mainly the men's basketball players but also the (other) student-athletes and people he'll encounter.
"He has a unique ability to develop individuals, and that was a great separator."
That helped him earn his first assistant coaching position at Florida Atlantic, where he gained valuable experience under head coach Mike Jarvis. He moved back to Florida as a full-fledged assistant in 2011, ultimately being regarded as one of the top up-and-coming assistants in college basketball.
It was going to take the "right job" for him to leave the state of Florida -- a state where he always lived.
"When I got the call from David, I knew there was something special going on here in Chattanooga," McCall said. "The job his staff did making sure that it was about the players first and nothing else showed me the kind of athletic director he is and the visions he has for the university, which made me more excited for the opportunity."
He'll bring with him similar concepts to mentor Billy Donovan as to how the team is going to play, which means the team is going to pressure, shoot 3s and run the court. The Mocs can return 78 percent of their scoring and 77 percent of their rebounding next season, so he's in a good position in terms of experience. His biggest mission now is to recruit the players currently in the program, as well as the players currently signed.
McCall met with the returning players Sunday night, both as a team and individually with some.
For one of those players, center Justin Tuoyo, it will be the first time he's been in college without Wade on his coaching staff. The 6-foot-10 Tuoyo transferred from Virginia Commonwealth when Wade took the UTC job.
"I went into the meeting with an open mind," Tuoyo said. "Coach McCall got our attention in the meeting. You watch what Florida did, and you know it works. He worked under a Hall of Fame coach at Florida, so you're going to be playing in a system that you know actually works, so it's exciting."
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