It took Bob Hoffman only a season to turn the program around, and for his efforts, comes national recognition.
The men’s basketball team had struggled the past few seasons, but Hoffman managed to guide the Bears to a 17-15 (11-9 A-Sun) record in his first season at the helm, en route to being named Atlantic Sun Conference Coach of the Year by CollegeInsider.com.
It started with a perfect 3-0 start to the season, the first for the program since 1984. Then came the upset wins over Alabama and Auburn. Mercer almost knocked off their third big conference opponent in the same week when they narrowly lost to Georgia Tech at home during homecoming.
In fact, Mercer was featured in the CollegeInsider.com mid-major poll for two straight weeks after the victories, climbing to as high as 10th, the highest basketball ranking in school history.
Hoffman gave the program a much needed jumpstart, encouraging support from the Middle-Georgia surrounding communities and students. In turn, he was rewarded for his effort, coaching his team in front of record-setting crowds in the University Center for much of the year.
The day before big games, Hoffman could be spotted around campus in a golf cart handing out free pizzas to students and encouraging them to come to the next home game.
“I’m a firm believer that individual awards really reflect team accomplishments,” said the head coach. “We didn’t finish exactly how we wanted to at the end of the year, but we had a great start to the season,” Hoffman added.
Despite Mercer’s shortcomings near the end of the season, Hoffman was able to guide his squad to a 89-83 victory over A-Sun foe Belmont in late February, the team’s first in the last 10 games with the Bruins.
Who could forget the team’s nail-biter win against Jacksonville on Feb. 7? For the first time in several years, Mercer was actually winning the close games at the end of regulation.
“It’s an honor to be mentioned as the coach of the year, especially with the great coaches that are in this league,” said the Oklahoma City native. He later added, “This award really just reflects the accomplishments and hard work of this team on the floor this season.”
Mercer director of athletics, Bobby Pope, was especially pleased with his first year coach, commenting on the school’s athletics Web site, “Bob is most deserving of this recognition. In just one year on the job, he has brought our men’s basketball program to a level of competitiveness, and I think even better days are ahead. He has energized the basketball team as well as the campus and community.”
The proof is in the statistics. A 58 percent increase in attendance, six more wins than the year before, and top 100 rankings in the NCAA in scoring offense, free throw percentage, and three-point field goals per game show just a small picture of the turnaround at Mercer.
For those who know Hoffman, the accolade isn’t really anything new. Hoffman was named NAIA Coach of the Year in 1989, and after coaching at Texas-Pan America for several years and now at Mercer, Hoffman ranks in the top 20 for active coaches in winning percentage.
After last season, expectations will be just a bit higher come basketball season in Macon. Following the regular season, the university will host the 2010 and 2011 General Shale Brick Men’s and Women’s Basketball Championships in the UC for the first time in Mercer’s history.
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