FGCU's Andy Enfield enjoys strange path to sport's pinnacle
PHILADELPHIA -- As close as he can remember, Andy Enfield fell asleep at a little past 2 a.m. Saturday morning. It may have been much later and in any case it wasn't for long. Perhaps an hour or two. This had been the most significant day of his professional life. (Or rather, the most significant day of his most recent professional life, which is not Enfield's first, and probably will not be his last). The Florida Gulf Coast Eagles team Enfield has coached for the last two seasons beat Georgetown on Friday night, 78-68, just the seventh victory in NCAA tournament history by a No. 15 seed over a No. 2 seed. It was a thorough beating, made closer only by a desperate Hoya rally in the final minutes that never got closer than four points. The Eagles will now play No. 7 seed San Diego State on Sunday and try to become the first 15 seed to win
Late in the postgame night, Enfield's two-year-old son, Marcum, was in bed with Enfield and his wife, (all together now,
Two years ago, FGCU athletic director Ken Kavanaugh hired Enfield, who spent the previous five years as an assistant coach at Florida State, as the second Division I head coach in FGCU history, just as the 20-year-old school became fully eligible to compete in the NCAA tournament as a member of the Atlantic Sun Conference. Enfield was hired on March 31, 2011. In the previous two decades, Enfield had been a career 2,000-point scorer at Johns Hopkins, for six years an assistant coach in the NBA (specializing in player development and shooting), an entrepreneur who shared in the startup of both a successful software company and a basketball consulting business before returning to coaching at Florida State in 2006.
Now he had a program of his own, although he was hamstrung by NCAA restrictions that prevented him from hiring assistant coaches until April 17. There was a small core of returning players, most of them unaccomplished. Enfield needed more. Hence, on April 8 of that year, he was in a room at Tallahassee Memorial Hospital, talking to Eric McKnight, a freshman at Iowa State University who had just received his formal permission to transfer. Enfield was in a hospital because his wife was about to deliver their third child.
The wife breathed. The coach recruited. "At one point, Amanda said, 'Put the phone down, we're about to have a baby,''' recalled Enfield before his team's practice at the Wells Fargo Center on Saturday afternoon.
He stopped. Marcum was born, the couple's third child, after daughters Aila and Lily. Soon after the baby was delivered and transported to the nursery, Enfield fired up his cell phone again. As he recalls it, this time the obstetric nurse was changing his wife's IV when Amanda began questioning his sanity. "Amanda said 'Will you please be quiet? The nurse is trying to change my IV and I can't even hear.' I left the room. And I kept my recruiting call going.'' This time he wandered the hall until he found an empty birthing room, plopped onto the bed and continued talking to McKnight. At one point another nurse walked in and said, "Are
Enfield shrugged sheepishly at the telling. McKnight, a willowy 6-foot-10 forward from Raleigh, N.C., signed with the Eagles and after sitting out a year, has started 31 games in this historic season. (Told on Saturday about the circumstances of his recruiting call, McKnight said, "Really? He was in the hospital? That makes me feel pretty honored that coach Enfield would do that.'').
It is one story among countless stories surrounding the Eagles, who have hijacked a giant slab of March Madness and made it their own. (Harvard, too, took a mighty piece of the bracket into Saturday's game against Arizona, after shocking New Mexico in the opening round, but imploded against the Wildcats).
There is the story of the school: Florida Gulf Coast University has 13,468 students, which already makes it among the largest universities in the U.S. Yet its recognition among college basketball fans was minimal. On Friday, the school's homepage received 432 percent more views than it had on the previous day, a phenomenon that mirrors the sudden recognition brought to Butler University when the Bulldogs first improbably reached the Final Four in 2010 (and then did it again in 2011). Yet it's not even clear FGCU needs the push; according to a school spokesman, the glistening campus, with its own sprawling lake, is already growing by 800-1,000 students each year. Yet the age of the college and the suddenness of its rise (FGCU began playing in Division I only in 2006-'07), lend an air of shock to everything the Eagles achieve.
There is the story of the coach. Unless one of his peers has a well-kept secret, Enfield is the only startup entrepreneur in the Division I coaching ranks, having co-founded a software contract management company in the health care industry called TractManager in 2000, along with partner Tom Rizk, who had previously been the CEO of a publicly traded company. "My partner is a genius, I can say that for certain,'' Enfield said, yet he is palpably uncomfortable in discussing other aspects of his ongoing association with TractManager, which at one point was valued at more than $100 million. "I retain a part of company, but I'm not involved any way in management,'' Enfield said. He declined to provide the size of his stake, "because it's a private company.''
In 2003, while working in New York both with TractManager and his basketball consulting business (focusing on skills development), Enfield was introduced to Amanda Marcum, an Oklahoma native (and Oklahoma sports fan) with a thriving career as a fashion model. Their first date was arranged by a mutual friend, and Enfield said that upon first seeing Marcum, "As soon as I saw Amanda get in the car, I knew it would be a good trip.'' He took a fashion model to a game at St. John's and ate Taco Bell at the student union beforehand because nothing else was open. "I figured if she still likes me after Taco Bell and a basketball game...'' Enfield said.
They were married in 2004. Two years later, Enfield took his career, and his wife, to Tallahassee. "What a sacrifice she has made to give up ... from flying all over the world to doing fashion shoots to moving to Tallahassee, which is a nice place, but it's not New York and it's not Milan and it's not Sydney and it's not Paris.''
And also, so easily overlooked, there is the story of the players. A collection of the overlooked and forgotten who could never have reasonably expected to be where they stand today. They are the perfect fit for their coach: Miscast or lacking, ideal to benefit from Enfield's background in skills development. (One of his clients had been Alonzo Mourning -- a piece of synergy that will annoy already hurting Georgetown fans -- whom FGCU AD Kavanaugh called to assess Enfield. "Alonzo said Andy was a tremendous young coach,'' Kavanaugh said. "He said he wished that he had met Andy early in his career and he would have been a much better offensive player.'')
In the frantic first April of 2011, Enfield signed not only McKnight, the transfer from Iowa State who was sold on FGCU while Amanda Enfield delivered the couple's son, but also Bernard Thompson, a 6-3 sophomore guard from Conyers, Ga. Thompson met Enfield when Thompson was a freshman in high school and attended a camp in Virginia where Enfield conducted a shooting clinic. Now it was April of Thompson's senior year in high school, and while he said he had scholarship offers from Georgia State and Tennessee State, he hadn't signed. He signed with FGCU, bringing quickness and passion, but horrific shooting technique.
"He was a two-handed shooter,'' Enfield said. "Couldn't make anything."
"I shot with my thumbs,'' Thompson said, and demonstrated while sitting the FGCU locker room by putting his thumbs together and snapping them out, like popping pinball flippers. Enfield fitted the 6-3 Thompson with a device that immobilizes the thumb, which he had used with numerous clients. He made three three-pointers in the win over Georgetown (and retains lethal defensive quickness and anticipatory movement, averaging 2.82 steals per game, fourth in the nation). In that same recruiting class came point guard Brett Comer from Winter Park, Fla., a daring passer who had 10 assists against Georgetown, including half a dozen long lob passes for dunks.
Yet any coach who succeeds in two years' time must draw on the players left behind. Among those Enfield inherited were 6-4 walk-on guard Sherwood Brown (now a senior) and two 6-8 forwards, Chase Fieler (now a junior) and Eddie Murray (now a fifth-year senior). All three of them were present at a withering two-hour morning, offseason practice in the FGCU gym in the spring of 2011. Because of the coaching change, the FGCU players had played little and not at all with supervision for several weeks. Their conditioning had slipped badly.
Enfield's memory of the three veterans:
Yet the three of them would eventually form the backbone of the team that plays for a berth in the Sweet 16. Fieler is grist for every undersized wannabe awaiting a late growth spurt. His father, Karl, is 6-7 and was a lineman at Ohio University, where his mother also played volleyball. Yet as a freshman at Parkersburg South High School in West Virginia, Fieler was a 5-10 point guard and as a sophomore a 6-0 shooting guard. He grew to 6-5 as a junior and 6-7 as a senior, long after the major recruiting ship had sailed. He visited James Madison and Eastern Kentucky in the rain and cold and FGCU on a sunny, 85-degree day and made a climate choice.
When Enfield inquired as to Fieler's position, he said he was a "catch-and-shoot three.'' Enfield decided otherwise and made Fieler a power forward who runs the floor and was on the receiving end of the rafter-scraping lob dunk from Comer that essentially finished Georgetown on Friday night. "Shot-fake and drive, Euro step around people, jump hook in the lane,'' said Fieler. "Things I hadn't worked on since high school. But they showed me I still had those things.''
Brown walked on at FGCU four years after he said he turned down early-senior year offers at Ball State and Murray State, "because I thought higher offers would come along, and then they didn't, and then Ball State and Murray State were gone by the middle of my senior year.'' Like Fieler, he describes himself as "a catch-and-shoot player with raw talent and not many skills. Coach Enfield taught me about the game.'' He also taught him to find the weight room, where Brown bench presses 300 pounds and was an even match for Georgetown's power guards. "Sherwood Brown and Chase Fieler are two of the most improved players I've ever seen," Enfield said.
Likewise, Murray was encouraged to use his quick hands and feet (and like Fieler, to run the floor and dunk basketballs). "They wanted to use my quickness, because the guys I play against are bigger and stronger,'' Murray said. "They taught me quick rips [hard moves with the ball to the rim] and through moves, and of course, with Coach Enfield, shooting form.''
So it is a moment frozen in time for all of them, two days on the national sports stage. It could end with a loss to San Diego State, which in many ways is a more dangerous matchup than Georgetown, because the Aztecs play faster, more like FGCU. It could last another week, with a trip to Dallas for the Sweet 16. It could last for a decade; Enfield has two solid players sitting out this year who will be eligible next season and recruiting will surely mushroom in the NCAA afterglow. Or Enfield will leave for a bigger job and FGCU will disappear.
All of those answers can wait another day.