Cumberland University honored former men’s basketball coach Cliff Ellis on Friday, making the court at Dallas Floyd Phoenix Arena in his honor.
Ellis spoke for nearly 15 minutes, thanking former players and assistant coaches during his 43 years as a head coach at Cumberland, South Alabama, Clemson, Auburn and currently Coastal Carolina. “There are three things that I take for this journey as a head coach that are so important. If you’ll affect 10 people in your life in a positive way, the world will change in a positive way. If you love and you care about your God, your family, your friends and your sport and embrace it, you’re going to go a long way,” Ellis said.
“The third thing is serve – serve your maker, serve your family, serve your teammates, serve your University. These are the things that I’ve taken. I hope that I have loved, that I have cared and that I’ve served because that’s the greatest gift that I take away,” he said. Ellis coached three seasons at then Cumberland Junior College from 1973-75, compiling a 78-12 mark along with two league championships. He served as a high school and junior high coach before his tenure in Lebanon.
Ellis completed his 43rd season as a collegiate head coach in 2017-18, posting an overall record of 826-496. He is one of four coaches in NCAA Division I history to make multiple NCAA Tournament appearances with four separate schools and has been named conference Coach of the Year six times in his career.
He has guided his squads to 10 NCAA Tournaments and earned 13 NIT bids. Ellis’ teams have advanced to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament three times, once with Clemson in 1990 and twice with Auburn (1999 and 2003).
Ellis coached nine years at South Alabama after leaving Cumberland, winning three Sun Belt Conference Championships and making two NCAA Tournament appearances. He then coached 10 years at Clemson, winning the school’s only ACC Championship (1990) and garnering three NCAA Tournament berths.
He spent 10 years at Auburn as well, earning three NCAA Tournament bids as well as two SEC West titles. Ellis worked three years in broadcasting before beginning his current position at Coastal Carolina in 2007-08, collecting a pair of Big South regular season championships and two conference tournament titles, making him one of only 12 coaches in NCAA Division I history to lead four different institutions to the NCAA Tournament.
With a victory in February, 2015, Eliis became the only coach in NCAA Division I history to tally 150-plus wins at four institutions. He is also one of two coaches to win championships in both the ACC and SEC.