Mark Wiedmer: Casey Long could give Chattanooga Mocs a needed lift

Mark Wiedmer: Casey Long could give Chattanooga Mocs a needed lift

June 7th, 2012 in Sports - Columns

Mocs basketball coach John Shulman, left, announced the addition of former University of Tennessee at Chattanooga point guard Casey Long, right, to the coaching staff on Monday at a news conference. Long played for UTC from 2004 through 2007.

Photo by Contributed Photo /Times Free Press.

Every successful college athletic team needs a reference point, a moment from its past when all was right and good and successful.

Hearing that the coach's system will work is one thing. Hearing that it has worked from someone who executed it with great success is another.

All of which brings us to Monday's announcement that University of Tennessee at Chattanooga basketball coach John Shulman has hired former point guard Casey Long as an assistant coach.

For a very long time, Shulman turned to former Tennessee Tech players and coaches to show his Mocs how it's done.

Guys such as Brent Jolly and Rick Cabrera understood what it took to win a decade ago under former Tech and UTC coach Jeff Lebo. They brought glory to the Techsters and knowledge to the Mocs.

But they weren't Mocs, not in the strictest sense of the word. They didn't score points or corral rebounds or lock down opponents as UTC players whose efforts hung banners in McKenzie Arena.

But Long did just that. He helped deliver one of the proudest regular-season moments in school history when he quarterbacked the Mocs to a victory over the big-brother Tennessee Vols in Knoxville in December 2004.

Furthermore, he helped secure a Southern Conference tournament title three months later on McKenzie Arena's court, then gave future NBA All-Star Chris Paul all he wanted when the two squared off in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

Paul ultimately prevailed that evening in Cleveland, Ohio, but Long, Mindaugas Katelynas, Ricky Hood and the rest of the Mocs served notice that they would never go quietly into the night. And they didn't, but other UTC teams since then have. In fact, no Mocs team since that one has won as many as 20 games. Only one has reached the NCAA tournament.

Something needs to change and change quickly, and Long at least would appear to have the heat and passion to help move the needle in that direction.

"I've been through the same thing they're going through," Long said at Monday's news conference. "I've been through the times where you struggle one season and you have to go back to fundamentals. I can tell them how to get through it."

There will be those who will argue that Shulman should have found a coach with far more experience than Long to return the Mocs to their past glory days. Maybe a low-level aide off the staffs at Kentucky, North Carolina, Duke, Indiana or Florida.

Maybe an older former head coach. A guy not looking to stab Shulman in the back to position himself for the UTC gig should Shulman fail, but rather someone content to provide offensive X and O help and the occasional defensive suggestion.

Good as Long could be and should be, he was working at Enterprise Rent-A-Car for years before Monday. Then again, maybe desperate times call for desperate measures.

And given that Enterprise's ad slogan has long been, "We'll Pick You Up," few college basketball programs need picking up more than the Mocs after last season's 11-21 campaign.

Asked about choosing Long over a more proven commodity, Shulman told of his former point guard recently accompanying him to the film room.

Shulman said Long looked at his coach after a few minutes and said, "Coach, why aren't we keeping the ball on the side like we used to?"

Added the coach: "And that's what I want from him."

What the Mocs Nation wants is more wins. Plain and simple. More 20-win seasons. More good nonconference wins inside McKenzie. More moments to make season-ticket holders believe that more championship seasons such as 2005 are just around the corner.

Said Shulman: "I left that film session with Casey ... knowing we could get back on top of this league. He gave me that belief."

If Long can create that same belief in the current Mocs, and if that belief can deliver results, this could prove to be the most enterprising hire of Shulman's career.

If not, here's hoping Enterprise will pick up Long a second time.