New Mercer coach on playing in NCAA tournament “I want them to feel how special that is.”
The Greg Gary era has officially tipped off at Mercer University.
Gary was officially introduced as the new Bears head basketball coach at a press conference Wednesday.
Held on the concourse inside Hawkins Arena, Athletic Director Jim Cole, deputy AD Sybil Blalock and Gary addressed the crowd of fans and players. Members of the media were had a private question-and-answer session with Gary after the press conference.
“It has been a very intense process,” Cole said. “Sybil and I for two weeks were all over this country.”
The University hired Eddie Fogler’s consulting firm to assist in finding the right candidates for the position. In the end, Gary checked all the boxes. Gary was announced as the new head coach on March 26.
Gary, who was in the middle of a tournament run at Purdue when news of hiring broke last month, said Mercer also fit what he was looking for when preparing to make the jump from assistant coach .
“I am super excited about being here,” Gary said. “There are a number of things that I felt like were really, really positive.”
Gary comes in with an impressive resume: He was an assistant coach at multiple schools and was a former Tulane Green Wave player in New Orleans. As a senior, Gary led the Green Wave to the NCAA tournament.
He hopes he can get Mercer to the same tournament in the near future.
.“I have been in their shoes, so I know how hard it is for them to go through what they go through on a daily basis,” Gary said. “I have also been in their shoes and played in the NCAA tournament. There is nothing like it… I want them to feel how special it is.”
Gary coached six of his first seven years as an assistant at his alma mater before taking on similar roles at schools including Miami and Duquesne.
Gary then accepted his first head coach position at Centenary in Shreveport, Louisiana, before resigning after two seasons after the college was re-classified as a Division-III school. His record during his two years there was 16-44.
He moved back into an assistant role at Duquesne before making the jump to Purdue after eight seasons, where he helped build the Boilermakers into a perennial powerhouse and tournament mainstay, including an appearance in this year’s Elite Eight. Gary says the loss to Virginia has fueled his desire to hit the ground running at Mercer.
“That night, I knew we were done but I said to my wife … ‘I want to get there tomorrow and practice. I want to get going so that I can show them or just so they can see my energy,’” he said. “In my mind, it did motivate me, like let’s get to Macon right now.”
This is at least the second time in the school’s history that they have turned to a coach with ties to the state of Indiana.
Bill Hodges, Mercer coach from 1991-1997, coached Larry Bird and Indiana State to an NCAA tournament final and finished as the runner-up to Magic Johnson and Michigan State. Hodges is listed as fifth in total wins at Mercer.
The Bears are hopeful that Gary will prove to be another winner from Indiana.
Gary will come into a program with high expectations after firing coach Bob Hoffman, just five years removed from an NCAA tournament victory over the Duke Blue Devils.
“Expectations are high but that is good. We all have to raise our level from me to the coaches to everyone around,” he said. “We are just going to do the right thing and get the best players we can.”
Gary told fans how appreciative he was for the program that Hoffman had built at Mercer.
“I just want to tell you he built this thing and I appreciate it. He such a well-respected man in this community and in the coaching fraternity,” Gary said. “He did one heck of a job.”
Gary is hopeful that he can build off of the foundation that has been laid for him at Mercer and he has seen that success in the NCAA tournament is possible.
“As a coach, as an assistant at least I did I would always imagine myself in those shoes getting a head coach being at Mercer or being at a Wofford, being at a small school winning those games, going to the NCAA tournament,” Gary said. “That was something to me that we can do that here.”