Nodding his head to the right, Casey Long jokingly lamented, “It’s going to be an easy transition, but the hardest part will be dealing with him.”
Chattanooga coach John Shulman, sitting beside his former point guard, shook his head with an accompanying laugh.
That banter, based on a nine-year relationship between the two, is precisely why Shulman announced Monday that Long is filling the vacant assistant coaching position on his staff.
“Through the (hiring) process one guy made sense to us,” Shulman said, later adding, “there’s no doubt he’s the absolute perfect fit for us.”
In 2002-03, Shulman, working as an assistant to UTC head coach Jeff Lebo, coached Long in his freshman year. After being promoted to head coach the following year, Shulman oversaw the remainder of Long’s collegiate career.
As a player, Long scored 1,043 points, grabbed 499 rebounds and dealt out 386 assists while starting 102 of his 125 career games. The Mocs went 73-53 overall and 34-30 in the Southern Conference over that span, including a SoCon title and NCAA tournament appearance in 2005.
After Long carved out his place amongst the fan base’s all-time favorite Mocs as a player, Shulman thought he’d immediately slide into a graduate assistant role after his career ended. Instead, he accepted a job at Enterprise Rent-A-Car and remained there ever since.
After five long years, though, Shulman finally got his man.
“I’m really happy and I’m really exited that we’re getting an opportunity to welcome back one of our own,” Shulman said. “The last time I sat on a podium with Casey was after we took a narrow defeat to Stephen Curry and Davidson in the (2007 SoCon) tournament and I’ve always wanted to get him back on this podium as one of our coaches. I always thought he had a chance to be a star in this business.”
Despite no previous formal coaching experience, Long, 26, replaces former assistant Ricky Cabrera, who recently accepted a coaching position at Tennessee Tech, his alma mater.
Long, who has remained in Chattanooga since his graduation in 2007, noted that he has worked as a volunteer coach and coached at the YMCA in recent summers. He said he’s spent that time, “gaining experience through other things and learning the business side of it more so than the playing side of it.”
Shulman said he tabbed Long for the job, “a couple weeks ago” and was inundated by “a crazy amount of interest from former players to assistant coaches to I think four former Division I coaches wanting this job.”
Though more experienced coaches applied, Shulman championed the fact that no other candidate could compare to Long’s loyalty to the Chattanooga program.
Following Monday’s press conference, Long recounted the story of his first practice as a Moc in the fall of 2003. Diving for a loose ball, the freshman suffered a deep gash above his eye. After being stitched up in the training room, Long was back on the floor.
That’s the passion Shulman hopes will resonate with a UTC roster teeming with underclassmen.
“I’ve been where these guys are,” Long said.
Through the Mocs’ disastrous 11-21 finish last season, Long could only sit by idly as Shulman and his team became the subject of stark criticism.
This time around, Long will look to lend a hand in picking his program up off the ground.
“Being a former player, I’ve been here when (Shulman) was successful,” Long said. “The one thing I can tell (the players) is, ‘Hey, we’re not far off.’ That’s the big thing. Last year was last year. The players that are returning, I can tell they’re not far off.”