Mark Story: The national champion coach in Kentucky who is not getting a tattoo

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistApril 11, 2013 

There is a Kentucky men's college basketball coach who won the national championship this spring and is not getting a tattoo to commemorate the achievement.

"I didn't make that deal," says Georgetown College head man Chris Briggs, laughing. "With our guys, that never came up. Thank God."

On Monday night, after Louisville staved off Michigan in a scintillating NCAA championship game — and after Cardinals head man Rick Pitino revealed on CBS that he promised his players he would get tatted if they won it all — Briggs went to the DVD player to relive his own edition of 2013 March magic.

Last month, the 31-year-old Briggs, a former student manager and graduate assistant coach under Tubby Smith at Kentucky, led Georgetown to an improbable NAIA Division I national championship. It was the school's second such title and its first since 1998.

"I'd watched our championship game a couple of times before already," Briggs said. "But after One Shining Moment went off, I couldn't help it — I popped the DVD in and was up to like, 3 a.m., watching it all again."

When one assumes the job coaching men's hoops at Georgetown, one is standing in some huge footprints. The Tigers' coaching line runs from Dr. Bob Davis through the late Jim Reid to Happy Osborne to Briggs.

Before leaving to become head man at Auburn in 1973, Davis won 415 games at Georgetown. His successor, Reid, won 529 before his death in 1996. Both are in the Kentucky Athletic Hall of Fame.

Osborne succeeded Reid and went a staggering 456-81 in 15 seasons, including the 1998 national crown.

After Osborne left Georgetown in 2011 to become associate head coach at Tennessee Tech, Briggs was promoted off the Tigers' staff to become head coach. In the young coach's second year, he became only the second Tigers head man to win it all. "That's definitely pretty crazy," Briggs said.

On Jan. 3, Georgetown seemed about as far away from a national title as Portland, Maine, is from Portland, Ore. That night, the Tigers were obliterated, 99-74, at the University of the Cumberlands. Their Mid-South Conference record dropped to 1-4.

With some injured players returning to health, the Tigers closed the season by winning 14 of their final 18 and earning the school's 22nd straight trip to the 32-team NAIA national tourney in Kansas City, Mo.

Still, few had Georgetown, an at-large No. 7 seed in the tourney, pegged as a likely national champion. But in K.C., G.C. showed again what is possible when a team "puts it all together at the right time."

Tigers star big man Victor Moses, the ex-Henry Clay Blue Devil, turned in five double-doubles in five games. Freshman post player Deondre McWhorter (Louisville Moore) showed flashes of becoming a future standout. Senior guards Garel Craig and Allan Thomas played like senior guards are supposed to under tournament pressure.

Junior-college swingman Monty Wilson played like a flat-out star, scoring 23 points and hitting the deciding bucket in a quarterfinals victory over Culver-Stockton (Mo.), then coming back for 32 and the game-winning trey in a 90-88 semifinals victory over LSU-Shreveport.

In the finals, Georgetown won going away over Southwestern Assemblies of God, 88-62.

"The mark of a great coach is to get their team playing its best at the right time," said Osborne, now the head man at Montgomery County High School. "There's no question, Chris did that. He did an outstanding job."

Throughout the NAIA tourney, Briggs says he was texting and/or talking with his old boss at UK, Smith.

"At one point, Coach Smith reminded me that, in a tournament, you want your kids to lighten up, not tighten up," Briggs said. "I tried to make sure the players saw me smiling a lot, saw that I wasn't getting uptight."

Having won a national title at the tender age of 31, Briggs, a Reidland native (McCracken County in Western Kentucky), said he has been fielding constant questions from people wondering about his future career plans. His wife, Elizabeth, is a fundraiser for the UK Athletics Department.

"I don't have a crystal ball that can foresee the future," Briggs said. "I do know that my wife and I love living in Central Kentucky, and that I think coaching at Georgetown is a special opportunity."

Says Georgetown Athletics Director Brian Evans: "We think Chris is an outstanding young coach, not only for what he does on the court, but for the way he handles things off it. We hope he will be at Georgetown for a long, long time."

Even at a school where the bar is set as high as at Georgetown, one would think having won a national title so early in one's career might take some pressure off a coach.

Yes and no, Briggs says.

"It definitely helps take some pressure off," Briggs said. "But sitting there watching Louisville Monday night, I want to win it again."

Mark Story: (859) 231-3230. Email: mstory@herald-leader.com.Twitter: @markcstory. Blog: markstory.bloginky.com.

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