Clayton State coach Gordon Gibbons will coach his final home game on Saturday as the Lakers host Georgia Southwestern. Earlier this season, Gibbons announced he was stepping down as coach at the end of the season.
MORROW — Tonight will mark the end of an era for Clayton State men’s basketball, and the opening of a new chapter for its coach.
After 12 seasons at the helm of the Lakers program, coach Gordon Gibbons will be departing as the winningest coach in Clayton State history.
Gibbons informed first-year athletic director Carl McAloose of his decision at the beginning of the season.
Gibbons said his choice to move on was not the result of any pressure to leave or any ill feelings — rather, a sense that his mission at Clayton State had been completed.
“We’ve been consistently good the entire time we’ve been here,” Gibbons said. “We’ve played at an NCAA (Division II) championship level since we’ve been here. I just feel like for me it’s kind of a deal where I’ve done all I feel like I can do here.”
What Gibbons has done is compiled a record of 218-133 in 12 seasons — the highest winning percentage in school history. He’s led the Lakers to 117 wins in Peach Belt conference play. Prior to his arrival, Clayton State was just 24-40 in four seasons playing in the conference.
The Lakers have been to two NCAA Division II national tournaments — including a Sweet Sixteen appearance — under Gibbons’ watch. Clayton State has captured both a regular season and conference tournament championship and has enjoyed an 11-year streak of winning seasons.
Before Gibbons stepped on the scene, the Lakers had a combined four winning seasons in the first 11 years of the program’s existence.
“We’re proud of our accomplishments,” Gibbons said. “Proud of what this program has acheieved. I’m just proud of Clayton State altogether.”
Gibbons said there was a brief, persuasive conversation to see if he would consider staying beyond this season, but once McAloose saw that Gibbons was resolute, he said those conversations quickly ended.
“I think his mind was made up, so I didn’t really pursue that,” McAloose said.
Said Gibbons: “They said the right things, but I just told them I wouldn’t be talked out of it. I wanted to announce it now because this will give the university more time to conduct a search.”
Both Gibbons and McAloose agreed that the school’s next coach would have to excel at more than X’s and O’s.
“We’ll need a person that can come here and recruit the world at this point,” McAloose said. “We want somebody that can build excitement and can fill the gym.”
And that person, said Gibbons, will have to be a multitasking coach as well, in order to be successful.
“We’ve built a background of a winning pedigree here, but I think it needs to be somebody who can come in here and realize that he’s got to do more than just coach the basketball team,” Gibbons said. “He’s got to look at the situation here and have that energy and that non stop motor to try and force the Southern Crescent communities to get involved with this program.”
One person in the Southern Crescent who has benefited from Gibbons’ presence is North Clayton High boys basketball coach Martisse Troup.
Troup said he’s seen some good players come and go in his eight years as coach, and Gibbons has been around to pluck several of his guys, allowing them to extend their playing days at Clayton State.
Gibbons has also been a personal help to Troup’s own coaching career.
“(Coach Gibbons) has just been a mentor to me,” Troup said. “He’s recruited a couple of my players, and it will just be sad to see him go. Just going to his clinics, stopping in at some of his practices, learning and just picking up a lot of things from him as well. I’m going to miss that.”
Taurean Green (2007) and Zac Bradley (2010) are two of the former North Clayton athletes that went on to play for Gibbons at North Clayton.
“It was easy for him to recruit my guys,” Troup said. “They wanted to stay here for family to see them play, and we knew how to make them ready to go when they would come into the system.
“I don’t know where they’ll be looking, but it should be a hot commodity job.”
McAloose said he’s “already received many phone calls” from coaches inquiring about the opportunity to coach the Lakers, and he hopes to have a new coach named after the NCAA Final Four.
Whoever the coach, McAloose said the standards set by Gibbons will remain high.
“The goal is to win a national championship and graduate students,” he said.
Gibbons’ team is currently 12-12 overall and 8-9 in conference play. He’ll coach his final Clayton State home game tonight at 7:30 p.m. against Georgia Southwestern.
“This has really been a lot of fun building this program into a national program and a high level Division II competitor,” Gibbons said. “Administration has allowed me to coach the way I like to coach with very few restrictions. They just said, ‘We want you and your program to represent the university well.’
“I think we’ve done that.”