How Clemson's Brad Brownell escaped the hot seat, landed a big payday

Clemson coach Brad Brownell reacts during the second half of the team’s first-round NCAA college basketball tournament game against New Mexico State on Friday, March 16, 2018, in San Diego. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)

There’s a school of thought that it’s difficult for college basketball coaches to regain job security after they land on the hot seat.

Brad Brownell is making strides toward disproving that theory.

Clemson announced Thursday that Brownell had agreed to a six-year, $15 million contract extension, a massive victory for a coach who narrowly avoided getting fired after a disappointing 2016-17 season and began last season facing long odds to save his job. Not only were the Tigers in the midst of a six-year NCAA tournament drought, ACC coaches also projected them to finish 13th in the league.

“I knew I needed to win this year,” Brownell told Yahoo Sports in March. “That’s okay. This is high-level basketball. You need to win.”

And win Brownell did, so much so that he won over a skeptical fan base and validated the patience of athletic director Dan Radakovich. Clemson won 25 games, finished tied for third in the ACC and demolished New Mexico State and Auburn in the NCAA tournament to advance to the program’s first Sweet 16 in 21 years. 

Radakovich felt confident awarding Brownell a long-term extension because Clemson returns a roster accomplished enough to return to the NCAA tournament next March. Four of last season’s six leading scorers are expected back next season, and the Tigers already proved they could survive without one of their departed seniors, having overcome the midseason loss of Donte Grantham to a torn ACL last winter.

The roots of Clemson’s ascendance date back to Brownell’s decision to dip into the transfer market more frequently in an effort to get older and find a new source of talent. The Tigers’ 2018-19 core of leading returning scorer Marcquise Reed, standout guard Shelton Mitchell and top big man Elijah Thomas each began their college careers at another school.

It also helped that Brownell has had more to sell on the recruiting trail with Clemson’s renovated arena and new practice facility open since fall 2016. Last year, Radakovich also granted Brownell some other resources he had been seeking, from more frequent access to a psychologist who previously worked mostly with the football program, to the hire of former Clemson standout Terrell McIntyre as a player development coach.

“We had to put some things together from a resource standpoint to allow him to compete,” Radakovich said in March. “And he’s done it. He has done a fantastic job, and I’m so happy for him.”

Exactly how much long-term job security Brownell has at this point isn’t yet clear because the details of his contract have yet to be reported. A bigger buyout would be an indicator Clemson is content to tie itself to Brownell for awhile. A smaller one would suggest that Radakovich is still leaving himself some wiggle room in case things go south next season.

Regardless, Brownell is in a far better place than anyone could possibly have expected this time last year.

Instead of trying to find another job, he now has a raise and a contract extension.

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Jeff Eisenberg is a college basketball writer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at or follow him on Twitter!