PHILADELPHIA — So many people had called Andy Enfield crazy that eventually he just started to go with it.
When he tried to break into the NBA as a shooting coach, people scratched their heads. At the time, the idea of a “player development coach” was foreign to most teams.
When he decided to take an assistant job at Florida State, it didn’t make any sense. For one thing, he had made a fortune on Wall Street as the cofounder of a contract management company, TractManager.
He also had a supermodel for a wife, Amanda Marcum, and at the peak of her career he asked her to give up a glamorous lifestyle to move with him to Tallahassee and become a mother.
On top of that, the Florida State program was stagnant and its coach, Leonard Hamilton, was on the hot seat. People told him it was a dead-end job.
But taking a job as head coach of Florida Gulf Coast University two years ago? That made sense to no one.
“When I took this job,” Enfield remembered, “they said, ‘FGC-what?’ ”
People thought he was leaving the ACC to coach at a junior college.
“I can remember making recruiting calls saying, ‘Hey, I’m the head coach at Florida Gulf Coast University,’ ” said Enfield. “And I’d be on the phone 15 minutes with a parent of a player and a high school coach from around the state and they’d think we were Gulf Coast Community College in the Panhandle. I would keep saying, ‘No, we are a Division 1 school. We are in Fort Myers.’ It just wouldn’t register because they had never heard of us.”
He doesn’t have that problem anymore.
After the 15th-seeded Eagles turned the NCAA Tournament on its head by upsetting No. 2 seed Georgetown Friday night, Enfield’s cellphone was flooded text messages.
“Four-hundred fifty and counting,” he said.
He hasn’t had the time — or the capacity — to respond to them all as he prepares his team to take on seventh-seeded San Diego State on Sunday night in the South Regional.
Call him crazy, but in a life that has been charmed, Enfield has managed to make almost every move the right one.
“I aim for the stars,” Enfield said. “I don’t sell, ‘Hey, we want to be a good team.’ We lay out a plan — ‘Where do you want to be?’ — and then we try to put things in place to get there.”
He carved out a niche in the NBA with the Bucks under Mike Dunleavy and the Celtics under Rick Pitino and his series of instructional tapes took off with Glen Rice as spokesman.
Five straight trips to the NCAA Tournament while Enfield was on the bench solidified the program’s resurgence.
There was never any doubt things would work out. The Victoria’s Secret model was a sports fan, the kind who went to a bar by herself to watch Oklahoma State football.
“Imagine with 300 guys in a bar and here she is watching football by herself,” Enfield said. “But she made it clear to everyone that came up to her, ‘Hey, I’m watching football, so don’t talk to me.’ ”
Their first date was an NIT game between St. John’s and Virginia. Plans for a fancy dinner were botched so badly that Enfield had to scramble to find something to eat.
“The only thing that was open was a Taco Bell,” he said. “She stuck with me. I figured, if she still likes me after Taco Bell and a basketball game . . . ”
Enfield turned FGCU into a tournament team with the same Midas touch. He took the players that were already there and gave them confidence.
Sherwood Brown came to FGCU because “I didn’t really have a choice.” Like most of the Eagles, he wasn’t heavily recruited. He grew up about three hours away in Orlando, and most of the people he knew “didn’t even know where Florida Gulf Coast was or had never heard of it.”
Brown walked on four years ago and started just 10 games his first two seasons. When Enfield came aboard his junior season, Brown started all but seven of 28 games and averaged 12.8 points. This season he was named Atlantic Sun Player of the Year, averaging 15.5 points and 6.5 rebounds per game.
“I never got an opportunity to play,” Brown said. “Coach Enfield and I had a conversation and he was telling me that this program is headed in the right direction and I really bought into that. I believed his words.”
Senior forward Eddie Murray grew up in North Fort Myers and went to high school about 30 minutes away from the FGCU campus. As the story goes, he can remember when it was just one building in the woods.
“There were a couple of dorm rooms,” he said. “But there was wild animals crossing the road you would see back there . . . Personally, I’ve seen wild boar, bobcats, alligators.”
The difference between then and now is dramatic.
“I got to see it grow as I was going through high school, then I was recruited there,” Murray said. “Not even just making the tournament, but just the turnaround that our program has had in the two years that Coach came in here has been incredible and an amazing experience.”
People still get the school’s name wrong, but the Eagles’ brand of basketball — the hectic pace, the high scores, the highlight-reel lobs and dunks — is infectious.
“It’s the way we are,” said point guard Brett Comer. “We’re a fast-paced team and we like to get a lot of dunks and a lot of momentum off them.”
Some of the plays they pull off (like Comer’s out-of-nowhere alley-oop to Chase Fieler against the Hoyas) might seem risky — or even crazy — but Enfield knows to just go with it.
“That’s what college basketball is about,” he said. “You can’t be serious, too uptight all the time.
“My players, they have unique personalities. You’ve probably seen that. I think that helps because we don’t care who we play. We don’t care what stage they’re on. They don’t care where they play. They just have this unique confidence about them to compete.”Julian Benbow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.