BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – Coastal Carolina men’s basketball head coach Cliff Ellis has been named to the 2021 class of the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame.
Ellis is the only coach in NCAA history to have won at least 170 games at four NCAA Division I programs. He has also won conference championships and led those four teams to the NCAA Tournament.
Ellis talks about how he found out about his induction. “I had a call and was talking with Zeke Smith from Alabama Power (a member of the HOF Board of Directors) and we were talking about several of our friends and never anything about the Hall of Fame,” Ellis said. “After about five or 10 minutes he told me, Coach, I want to let you know you are being inducted into the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame.”
“I was in awe because I lived in that state for 19 years and the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame is a huge deal. When you talk about state halls of fame they would be right up at the top. When you look at the people in it I just felt humbled and honored and that’s the best way I can put it, and my immediate reaction was to go back and reflect on all the coaches and all the players that have been a part of this. It has been a journey throughout and that includes these players (Coastal Carolina) because everybody has been a part of this journey and I have tried to reach out to as many as I can, but it is really quite an honor.”
He got his first job coaching on the collegiate level at Cumberland College in Lebanon, Tenn. He led the junior college for three years recording a 78-12 record along the way. In 2018 Cumberland honored Ellis by renaming the playing court at the Dallas Floyd Phoenix Arena The Cliff Ellis Court.
The Florida State grad jumped into the division I ranks when he took over the program at South Alabama in 1975 and led the Jaguars to 171 wins including three consecutive Sun Belt titles from the 1978-79 season through the 1980-81 season.
Along the way, the Jags played in two NCAA tournaments and played into the NIT quarterfinals in 1981 and had 11 players drafted into the NBA. For his work with the Jaguars, Ellis was named to the South Alabama Athletic Hall of Fame.
Ellis moved on to Clemson for the 1984-85 season and remained with the Tigers through 1993-94. In his 10 seasons with the Tigers Ellis’ teams won 177 games and that includes an Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) championship following the 1989-90 season.
He led the Tigers into post-season eight times including four NCAA trips and four NIT trips. His 1989-90 season saw Clemson make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament playing in the Sweet 16.
Ellis had several of his Clemson players drafted into the NBA including four first round choices Horace Grant, Elden Campbell, Dale Davis, and Sharone Wright.
In 1994 Ellis took over a down-trodden Auburn program and led the Tigers into Southeastern Conference prominence with 186 wins and an SEC title in the 1998-99 season.
Eight of his former players at Auburn were drafted into the NBA led by first round selections Wesley Person, and Mamadou N’Diaye.
In 2007 Ellis was tabbed to take over a struggling Coastal Carolina program that had seen plenty of success, most of which was in the rearview mirror, but once he arrived things began to change quickly for the Chanticleers.
After winning just 13 games in both of his first two seasons at CCU, the turnaround was evidenced by back-to-back 28 win seasons in both the 2009-10 season and the 2010-11 season. Both seasons saw the Chants win the regular-season Big South Championship and in the 2013-14 season, CCU won the Big South regular-season title and the Big South tournament title to make take the automatic berth into the NCAA Championship.
Since then Ellis has guided the Chants to tournaments in seven of nine seasons. The Chants have also made appearances in the NIT, CIT, and the CBI under Ellis’ direction.
He has become the second-winningest coach in CCU history entering the 2020-21 season with 246 career wins.
Joining Ellis to the Hall of Fame Class of 2021 are former football standouts Willie Anderson, George Teague, and DeMarcus Ware. Golfer Steve Hudson also joins the hall along with Olympian Lillie Leatherwood and basketball player Ben Wallace.
An added honor for Ellis will be to enter the Hall with one of his former co-workers and long-time friend at Auburn, former baseball coach Hal Baird.
Ellis talked about entering the hall with Baird and Ware, who was from the Auburn area.
“I really like the fact I am going in with Hal,” Ellis said. “Hal did a great job with the Auburn baseball team while he was there. Also, I like going in with DeMarcus. He went to high school with my daughter and ended up going to Troy and then had a great career in the NFL.”
“There will be some past honorees that will be there and it will be great to see them, but this is not just an honor for me, but it is an honor for everyone that has been a part of me and what we have done. The players, coaches, administrators, it’s all been a team effort.”
The 53rd annual Alabama Sports Hall of Fame induction banquet and enshrinement ceremony will be held May 8 in the Birmingham Ballroom of the Sheraton Birmingham Hotel. The Class of 2021 will increase the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame’s membership to 377. For more information and ticket purchase, contact the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame Museum at 205-323-6665.