Bobby Cremins' assistant says the veteran basketball coach hasn't looked well the past few weeks and Friday evening the College of Charleston announced Cremins will miss the rest of the season because of a medical problem.
Yet, Mark Byington — who will take over as the Cougars' coach — was still surprised when the 64-year-old Cremins called him Friday morning with the news.
"The despair in his voice last night and this morning, I knew something was wrong," Byington said.
Cremins was at his home on Hilton Head Island when the announcement was made at the school. The college did not specify Cremins' medical condition or put a time frame on his return, and asked reporters to respect his privacy. Charleston athletic director Joe Hull did say Cremins' condition was not life threatening.
"I personally hope he coaches for many years to come," Hull said.
The AD also plans to speak with Cremins over the next few weeks to determine it the coach will be out even longer.
Cremins issued a statement through the school, saying he knows his top assistant for all six of his years at Charleston will do well in his new role.
"I have complete faith in him as do our players," Cremins said.
The Cougars started this season 10-2 with wins over Clemson and Tennessee, but have lost six of their last eight. Hull said the goal is still to make it to the NCAA tournament. They are 4-5 in the Southern Conference and will need a late season run to get a bye into the second round of the conference tournament.
"It will be business as usual," Byington said. "There will be a different guy calling the signals, but we will move on."
Hull said he will keep in touch with Cremins, but has no plans for the program's future beyond having Byington finish the season.
Byington said Cremins has not looked healthy for the past few weeks, but he thought the coach just might need a day or two off. Instead, he got a phone call from a distraught Cremins at 7:15 a.m. Friday. He told athletic officials that Cremins was taking the rest of the season off, then gathered his team.
"I was very upset. The first thing the team asked when they heard is he OK?" guard Andrew Lawrence said. "Obviously if this has happened and he needs to take a leave of absence we are completely behind him."
Cremins is in his sixth season with the Cougars after spending 19 years coaching Georgia Tech. He has led Charleston to 20 victories in each of his seasons, but his teams haven't been able to win the Southern Conference tournament to get to the NCAAs. He is 579-375 in 31 seasons of coaching, and the Yellow Jackets named their home court for him before he returned to coaching in 2006.
Cremins grew up in the Bronx then came south to play for South Carolina and fellow New York-transplant Frank McGuire. He got his first head coaching job at Appalachian State, leading the Mountaineers to the NCAA tournament in 1979.
Three years later, he left for Georgia Tech and the Atlantic Coast Conference. He led the Yellow Jackets to nine NCAA tournament appearances and reached the Final Four in 1990. He also won three ACC tournament titles and two regular-season crowns before the program tailed off and he was let go after the 2000 season.
Cremins spent the next several years as a college basketball analyst, playing tennis on Hilton Head, until deciding to come back to coaching at the College of Charleston.
Byington has been at Charleston nine seasons. He led Friday's practice and told players they needed to play well for Cremins and just concentrate on Saturday's game against Wofford.
"We're going to make it through," Byington said. "You're going to deal with worse things in your life."