Ellerbe, Brian 1963–
Brian Ellerbe 1963–
College basketball coach
Brian Ellerbe’s coaching career is a testimony to the value of hard work and of being in the right place at the right time. After a decade of traveling around the country from one college basketball coaching job to another, Ellerbe suddenly found himself with the opportunity of a lifetime when he was named basketball coach at the University of Michigan. Assuming the job on an interim basis, he lead the team to a conference tournament championship and the second round of the NCAA Tournament. The following season, he was officially named as head coach.
Ellerbe was born September 1, 1963 in Capitol Heights, Maryland, the youngest of nine children. He attended Bowie High School in Bowie, Maryland, and was the leading scorer in Washington, D.C. area high school basketball during his junior and senior seasons. He earned first-team All-Washington Metro honors and played in the 1981 Capital Classic All-Star Game along with Michael Jordan and Patrick Ewing.
Ellerbe graduated from Bowie in 1981, and attended college at Rutgers. He was a four-year starter as a guard on the Rutgersbasketball team, finished his career with 979 points, and placed second on the school’s list of assist leaders. He also holds the school record for career three-point field-goal percentage and assists in one game. Ellerbe is among the school’s career leaders in several other categories and led Rutgers to the NIT tournament his freshman year and the NCAA Tournament his sophomore year. He also played alongside future NBA performers John Battle and Roy Hinson. Any hopes Ellerbe might have had for his own NBA career, however, were dashed by a shoulder injury he suffered midway through his senior season.
Ellerbe earned his degree in urban planning from Rutgers in 1985, and took a one-year position as a graduate assistant basketball coach for Rutgers. The following season Ellerbe moved on to Bowling Green State University, where he served as an assistant coach for the next two seasons. At the time, he was the youngest full-time assistant coach in the United States, and he helped the Falcons become a vastly improved team. His roommate at Bowling Green was assistant football coach Terry Malone, who would later also coach at Michigan.
During the 1988–89 season Ellerbe coached at George
Born Brian Hersholt Ellerbe, September 1, 1963, in Capitol Heights, Maryland; married to Ingrid; children: Brian Jr., Morgan Ashleigh. Education: Rutgers University, bachelor’s degree in urban planning, 1985.
Career: Graduate assistant coach, Rutgers University, 1985–86; assistant coach, Bowling Green University, 1986–88; assistant coach, George Mason University, 1988–89; assistant coach, South Carolina University, 1989–90; assistant coach, University of Virginia, 1990–94; head coach, Loyola (Maryland) College, 1994–97; assistant coach, University of Michigan, 1997, interim head coach, 1997–98, head coach, 1998–.
Mason, where the Patriots compiled a 20–11 record, won the Colonial Athletic Association title, and went to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in school history. The following year Ellerbe coached at South Carolina, where he recruited future NBA player Jamie Watson. In 1990, he became assistant coach at Virginia and stayed for the nextfour years. While serving as coach Jeff Jones’ assistant, Ellerbe helped the Cavaliers to an 80–48 record, three NCAA Tournament appearances, and the 1991 NIT championship.
In 1994, Ellerbe was named head coach at Loyola College in Maryland. Ellerbe’s strongest asset as a coach, his recruiting abilities, served him well. In three seasons at Loyola, he brought in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference’s top recruiting class twice and placed at least one player on the league’s all-rookie team each year. During the 1996–97 season, Loyola had its best conference record in school history (10–4), but finished only 13–14overall. At the end of the season, Ellerbe resigned as head coach.
On May 29, 1997, Ellerbe landed an assistant coaching job at the University of Michigan. During this time, Michigan’s basketball program was plagued by allegations that it had violated NCAA rules. As a result of the scandal, head coach Steve Fisher was fired on October 4. Initially, Michigan athletic director Tom Goss intended to hire a big-name coach from another university to replace Fisher. However, because a new season was about to begin, Goss felt that it would be unethical to hire a coach away from another team. As a result, Ellerbe was named interim coach for the season. He took a positive approach to his new job, telling Bob Wojnowski of The Detroit News, “It’s the opportunity of a lifetime. It’s five months of scrutiny but it also can be five months of fun and adventure. It’s not like I shut the door, looked in the mirror and said, ‘What have I gotten myself into?’ I’m going to keep it fun for the players. It’s not fair to put a burden on them. All I’m asking is that they compete.” Early in the new season,
Ellerbe told The Detroit News, that he definitely wanted an opportunity to earn the job on a permanent basis, “It would be great. My wife really likes Ann Arbor. It’s a very good place to raise a family. There’s some business opportunities for my wife (vice-president of Boxer Learning, an educational software company) that’s conducive to what she’s doing. And obviously, Michigan is one of the marquee programs in the country. So that total environment makes it special.”
Very little was expected from the Wolverines during the 1997–98 season, but Michigan had some surprises up its sleeve. It started the season with an upset of No. 1-ranked Duke and defeated previously unbeaten Syracuse to capture the Puerto Rico Holiday Classic tournament. In the Big Ten, they upset conference powerhouses Indiana and Minnesota. The Wolverines finished the season 25–9 overall and 11–5 in the Big Ten. The team’s greatest triumph, however, occurred during the Big Ten conference’s first championship tournament. The Wolverines won three games in a row, defeated Purdue in the championship game, and secured an automatic berth in the NCAA Tournament.
In the NCAA Tournament, Michigan won its first game before losing to UCLA in the second round. Although the Wolverines had exceeded all expectations, Ellerbe was not immediately offered the headcoaching job on a permanent basis. Goss again considered hiring a big-name coach, but he quickly changed his mind and decided that Ellerbe was the best man for the job. On March 20, 1998, Ellerbe was officially named as Michigan’s head coach. He told the Detroit Free Press, “I feel very, very fortunate and very, very blessed to have the situation finish the way it did. Tom told me from day one I would have an opportunity, and here we are.” Goss later implied that he decided to hire Ellerbe after the coach excused himself in the middle of his interview with Goss to telephone a potential recruit. Goss remarked to The Detroit News, “When I compared all the candidates, I thought I had a bright, energetic young man right here. So I said, ‘Let’s take a chance.’”
The 1998–99 campaign marked a rebuilding year for Michigan. Despite several wins over ranked opponents, the Wolverines finished with a losing record and were not invited to a post-season tournament. Following the season, Ellerbe was able to sign several top recruits and appeared to secure his future as head coach of one of the most prestigious programs in college basketball.
Detroit Free Press, March 21, 1998, sec. B, p. 1; August 15, 1998.
The Detroit News, October 27, 1997, sec. D, p. 1; January 15, 1998, sec. C, p. 1; March 22, 1998, sec. D, p. 1.
The Sporting News, November 17, 1997, p. 54.
The University of Michigan 1998–99 Men’s Basketball Media Guide, p.30.