Bill Clingan, who has guided Mount Olive to the NCAA Tournament in each of the last five years, is retiring after 18 years as head men’s basketball coach, it was announced Tuesday during a news conference. Clingan retires with more than 300 wins, an NCAA regional championship, three regular season conference titles and a conference tournament championship, including a conference regular season and tournament championship in his final season. Associate head coach Joey Higginbotham has been promoted to head coach, effective immediately.
Clingan began his career at Mount Olive in 1988 as an assistant men’s basketball coach and head men’s tennis coach, as well as an instructor in the recreation and leisure studies department. He took over as head men’s basketball coach in 1990. Clingan has the longest tenure ever of any Trojan head men’s basketball coach and the second-longest tenure among current Conference Carolinas head men’s basketball coaches.
“After being involved in basketball as a player or coach for more than 50 years, I have decided to step down to pursue other avenues here at Mount Olive College,” said Clingan. “I have embraced basketball all my life and will still embrace it, just from a different angle.”
In 1994-95, Clingan led Mount Olive to its first-ever 20-win season. The Trojans eclipsed the 20-win mark again in 1998-99, posting a 22-6 mark and earning a share of the Carolinas-Virginia Athletics Conference regular season title for the first time in school history.
The 2003-04 season became one of historical significance for Clingan and the Trojans. Mount Olive compiled a school record 11-game winning streak and again broke a school single-season wins record with a 23-8 mark. The Trojans also earned their first-ever national ranking, peaking at No. 20 in the Division II Bulletin Top 25. Mount Olive achieved another significant “national ranking” that year: an 80-foot buzzer-beater in a win over then-nationally second-ranked Pfeiffer was No. 1 on ESPN Sportscenter’s Top 10 Plays of the Day.
Mount Olive capped the season with its first-ever NCAA Tournament appearance.
Despite graduating five senior starters, Clingan and the Trojans topped their accomplishments of 2003-04 with the program’s best season to date. Mount Olive posted a record of 29-5 to set a school wins record that still stands today. The Trojans reached the NCAA Tournament for the second straight year and captured the East Regional Championship. The regional title catapulted Mount Olive into the NCAA Division II Elite Eight for the first time in school history.
The Trojans earned a share of its second regular season conference title and Clingan was named 2004-05 Carolinas-Virginia Athletics Conference Men’s Basketball Coach of the Year. The Trojans were 18-2 in conference play.
Mount Olive opened the 2005-06 season ranked No. 5 in The Sporting News Preseason Poll for the Trojans’ first-ever top 10 national ranking. Mount Olive (25-7) stayed in the top 10 through the first two months of the season and remained in the top 25 for most of the year. The Trojans reached the NCAA Tournament for the third straight year and rallied from 16 points down for a first-round victory over Shippensburg in the East Regional.
With as many as three freshmen in the starting lineup in 2006-07, Mount Olive finished in the top two in the regular season conference standings for the fourth straight year and reached the championship game of the conference tournament for the fourth year in a row. The Trojans posted a 23-8 record and made their fourth consecutive appearance in the NCAA Tournament.
Clingan reached a milestone in the first round of the 2007 Carolinas-Virginia Athletics Conference Tournament, picking up career win No. 300.
The 2007-08 season started with a bang as Mount Olive posted double-digit victories over a pair of national top 10 teams on its way to its eighth consecutive Pickle Classic title. The Trojans were ranked as high as No. 11 in the NABC Division II Top 25 and were in the national rankings for 11 of 14 weeks.
During the Pickle Classic, a special ceremony was held naming the men’s basketball locker room for Clingan.
With a new conference name, Clingan guided Mount Olive to the Conference Carolinas regular season championship, the Trojans’ first outright title and third overall. And after four consecutive runner-up finishes in the conference tournament, Mount Olive captured its first-ever Conference Carolinas Tournament title. The top-seeded Trojans defeated defending national champion Barton in the semifinals and Queens in the championship game.
Clingan’s final game would take place in Mount Olive’s fifth consecutive appearance in the NCAA Tournament.
Clingan finishes his career with a record of 325-195 for a winning percentage of .625. In the last five years, Clingan’s teams posted a record of 124-35 (.780).
Clingan and his wife Bette have two adult sons, Steve and Scott, both of whom have assisted with the Trojan men’s basketball program. Along with serving as head men’s basketball coach, Clingan has maintained teaching duties each year as an associate professor in the recreation and leisure studies department.
In an emotional speech, Clingan thanked a long list of friends, family members, staff members and former players. Clingan noted a number of former Trojans who played professionally or moved into the coaching ranks. He also gave praise to his successor.
“Now we start a new chapter. Our ship will be guided by a new captain, but not an unfamiliar one and this is why I feel comfortable in passing the reins,” Clingan said of Higginbotham. “Joey bleeds Mount Olive green. He’s a young coach who has endured a lot and sacrificed to live his dream.”
Higginbotham has been a part of Mount Olive men’s basketball since 1996, when he was the Trojans’ starting point guard as a freshman. After transferring to Christopher Newport University, Higginbotham returned to Mount Olive to complete his degree in sports management.
A native of Chesapeake, Va., Higginbotham became the Trojans’ assistant men’s basketball coach in 2000. He also served as head coach of the Mount Olive junior varsity men’s basketball team for two years. In 2006, he was promoted to associate head coach. His duties have involved all aspects of the Trojans men’s basketball program, including serving as the primary recruiter for the Trojans. On the court, Higginbotham has been in charge of defensive schemes and substitutions.
“I am very grateful to Coach Clingan for all he has done for me,” said Higginbotham. “He has always put a lot of trust in me. I don’t think there’s a coach in America who would put as much trust in an assistant as Coach Clingan has in me.”
Higginbotham added, “We’re here today to honor Coach Clingan. You can congratulate me, but honor Bill.”
Higginbotham’s hiring gives Mount Olive husband and wife coaches on its staff. Higginbotham is married to Trojan head softball coach Jaime Kylis-Higginbotham. The couple has a 16-month-old daughter Addison.
Higginbotham will make his regular season head coaching debut November 15-16 as Mount Olive opens the 2008-09 season at the Catawba College Classic. Higginbotham’s first games as head coach at Kornegay Arena take place November 21-22 when the Trojans play host to the 43rd Annual Pickle Classic.