At age 64,his mop as thick and white as ever, he remains among the most charming, self-effacing and amusing men in an ego-fueled, often-joyless racket.
As a hat tip, and at the suggestion of former DP colleague and current Charleston Post and Courier wordsmith Darryl Slater, here’s a column I wrote after Cremins’ final game at Georgia Tech 12 years ago.
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Don't remember Bobby Cremins' ACC playing and coaching career by the numbers. The stories are better.
Don't judge Cremins' 19 seasons as Georgia Tech's head coach by his Final Four or his final defeat. The stories are better.
Don't measure Cremins' impact on the conference by the glowing tributes that accompanied his recent resignation. The stories are better.
Bobby stories. Everyone's got 'em. Even the man himself, who 34 years ago left behind the gangs of the south Bronx to play ACC basketball for Frank McGuire at the University of South Carolina.
So as Cremins departs his final ACC tournament following Thursday night's 63-62 loss to Florida State, we offer tales about the most unassuming, congenial giant this storied conference has seen.
The year is 1975, and the 27-year-old Cremins has just landed his first head-coaching position - at Appalachian State in Boone, N.C. One of his first duties is to play golf with some influential boosters.
One problem: As a New York City street kid, Cremins learned to play hoops and hotwire cars. This son of Irish immigrants - his father was a longshoreman - did not learn to play golf.
Cremins strolls into the pro shop and is told to pick a bag of clubs and head to the driving range. Once there, he pulls a club and begins contorting his hands and arms into unimaginable positions. “Uh, Kevin,” Cremins says to assistant coach Kevin Cantwell, “I can't do this.”
“Bobby,” Cantwell says, “those are left-handed clubs.”
The year is 1985, and Georgia Tech and Wake Forest are in a recruiting war for Florida schoolboy star Tom Hammonds. When Hammonds is ready to announce his choice, Cremins and Wake Forest assistant Mark Freidinger are summoned to the high school.
“I'm signing with Tech,” Hammonds says.
Freidinger feels an elbow in his ribs. “Mark!” Cremins says. “Which Tech?”
The year is 1990, and Cremins has coached Georgia Tech to the Final Four in Denver. Preparing to face UNLV's Runnin' Rebels in the semifinals, Cremins is asked about the effect of altitude.
Not a problem, he says. We're playing indoors.
Again, the year is 1990, and Georgia Tech has just defeated Virginia in the ACC tournament final at the new Charlotte Coliseum. As the team bus travels through downtown, it happens upon the old Charlotte Coliseum.
Twenty years earlier in that building, as a senior point guard at South Carolina, Cremins had suffered his most painful defeat, 42-39 in double-overtime to North Carolina State. The loss in the ACC tournament final cost the third-ranked Gamecocks an NCAA tournament bid.
“Stop the bus,” Cremins orders.
Cremins climbs out, shakes his fist at the old arena and yells, “I got you back, you son-of-a- bitch.”
The year is 2000, and Cremins, as capable as Yogi Berra of butchering the language, is marveling at all the nice things people have said about him since his resignation.
“If I didn't have so many skeletons in my closet,” he says, “I'd run for office. ... Little did I know I was going to be utilized.”
That is quintessential Bobby. Before he resigned Feb. 18, it never dawned on him how many lives he's touched, how many friends he's made.
The year is 1997, and Cremins is speaking to his team in the visitor's locker room at North Carolina. “Drew,” he says to Tech guard Drew Barry. “You've got Calabria. He's a shooter.”
North Carolina's Dante Calabria had graduated the year before.
The beauty is, Cremins wants us to laugh at these stories. Heck, he laughs at them.
But don't confuse absent-mindedness with simple- mindedness. Cremins' Tech teams won 354 games and three ACC tournaments. They won 15 NCAA tournament games in 10 appearances. He recruited the likes of Kenny Anderson, Stephon Marbury, Mark Price, Dennis Scott and Hammonds. He has undergraduate and master's degrees from South Carolina.
The man may be crazy, but he's crazy like a fox. He is also, despite 25 years in an ego-driven racket, refreshingly disinterested in self- promotion.
The year is 1991, and John Pendergast is working his first game as Georgia Tech's public-address announcer. After introducing Tech's starting lineup, Pendergast says “and the coach of the Yellow Jackets, Bobby Cremins.”
Following the game, Cremins asks Pendergast not to introduce him, a request Pendergast honors until Cremins' final home game - an 85-69 victory over Clemson.
The year is 1986, the year following Georgia Tech's first ACC tournament championship, and I travel to Atlanta for a pre-arranged interview with Cremins. He arrives late and we go to the athletics dining hall for lunch.
“What's this about?” Cremins asks.
“You,” I say.
He frowns and reluctantly agrees to answer questions from a cub reporter. Several hours later, we're sitting in the sauna at Alexander Memorial Coliseum laughing and cutting up like long-lost friends.
The year is 1985, and then-Tech sports publicist Mike Finn is driving Cremins to the Atlanta airport. Just ahead of them on Interstate 285, a car blows a tire, careens into the median and goes airborne. Before Finn can get the car stopped, Cremins jumps out, sprints across four lanes of rush-hour traffic and helps the shaken but relatively unscathed driver from her mangled vehicle.
The year is 2000, and Georgia Tech's Athletic Hall of Fame committee is selecting this year's honorees. The committee votes unanimously to waive the standard waiting period and to induct Cremins this year.
Thank you, Cremins tells them. But I don't want any special treatment. Let's wait.
Bobby Cremins, 52 years young, will coach college basketball again. But he harbors no bitterness over his departure, which comes after four consecutive losing seasons in ACC play.
“All my parents did was preach the American Dream,” says Cremins, born July 4, 1947. “And I've lived the American Dream. ... My time (at Tech) is over. I failed in my attempt to get us turned around.”
Cremins will take next year off and travel to Ireland with his son to play golf, presumably with right-handed clubs. Then he'll search for a program that's interested in the genuine article.
“It's truly been embarrassing,” Cremins says of the past three weeks. “Even though we have a losing record, I feel like I'm going out a winner.”
He is, indeed.
Cremins said Monday that exhaustion drove him into retirement -- his record is 579-375. Here's wishing him peace, a shaded front porch and comfortable rocking chair.
He will be missed.
I can be reached at 247-4636 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. The blog is at dailypress.com/sports/teeltime and I tweet at twitter.com/DavidTeelatDP
Here’s a link to my Daily Press print columns.