In three of the last four seasons, JU has made the postseason and in the last two trips, advanced with memorable wins on the road. Despite the tough 2011-12, the Dolphins are ready to bounce back and return to the recent success that is becoming the norm.
Warren enters this season third on the school’s all-time wins list (100) and needs only eight wins to become the school’s all-time leader in coaching victories – surpassing legends Hugh Durham and leader Rollie Rourke.
Lightning in a Bottle
Despite losing the two of the top 15 scorers in school history, the 2010-11 squad continued to build on the current success with its record third straight trip to the postseason, a first since the 1969-72 campaigns.
The 2011 upset of East Carolina in the first round of the CollegeInsider.com Tournament gave JU its 20th win of the season – marking the first back-to-back 20-win campaigns since 1974.
The 2011 postseason, which ended in the second round of the Collegeinsider.com tournament, came as a result of 20-11 campaign (13-7 in the A-Sun and a third place finish) that saw JU post a glittering 11-2 home record.
The big year also marked the fifth consecutive winning season in men’s basketball, the second-longest streak of its kind in the program’s illustrious history.
The 2010-11 team had plenty of highlights of which to be proud, including a six-game win streak early in the season. During that run, the Dolphins beat Southeastern Conference powerhouse Auburn 69-55. About a month later, JU beat Florida (an eventual Elite Eight participant), 71-69, in overtime.
The Dolphins also racked up a winning record in non-conference play for the first time since the 2004-05 season.
A Run for the Ages
The stage was set success by the 2009-10 team which went down as one of the iconic teams in program history, featuring two of the top 15 scorers in school history – Ben Smith and Lehmon Colbert.
The dynamic duo became the first four-year seniors in JU history to never endure a losing season.
In 2009, Warren became the first JU coach to have three 1,000-point scorers on the same team with Marcus Allen, Ben Smith and Lehmon Colbert.
He has now coached three of the top 15 scorers and claimed the first two regular season conference titles in program history. JU became the first A-Sun team to successfully defend its title since Troy State in 2003 and 2004.
The first title didn’t come easily. On the final day of the regular season, JU knocked off three-time defending tournament champion Belmont on its home floor in overtime for the program’s first regular season title. The feat capped the Dolphins meteoric rise from the cellar, becoming the first program in the modern era of college basketball to win a conference title within three years of winning one game or less.
The title and the ensuing berth in the NIT, JU’s first postseason trip since 1987, may be one of the greatest reclamation projects in college basketball, rescuing a down-trodden program that once played for the national title. In fact, the Dolphins have played in front of crowds of more than 5,000 fans at the Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Arena in each of the last three seasons – the most since the early 1990s.
He has also led the Dolphins to the edge of the promised land, advancing to the A-Sun Championship game in two of the last three seasons – JU’s first appearance in the title game since 1989.
One of the top recruiters in the country, Warren and his coaching staff have developed a great knack for finding student-athletes that fit in with the program as well as the University. That has led to JU putting at least one player on the Atlantic Sun Conference all-freshman team each of Warren’s first three seasons as head coach, with one player being recognized as first team all-conference the past four of the last five seasons.
Getting student-athletes to come to JU is one thing, but Warren has built a network with former JU student-athletes as well. He has created a strong support group that has brought the basketball alumni back into the program – including greats such as Artis Gilmore, Otis Smith and Dee Brown, along with former coaches Joe Williams,Tom Wasdin, Tates Locke and Bob Wenzel.
"This program has a longstanding tradition of excellence and it is my responsibility to carry that tradition," Warren said. "The former players have come back and taken an interest in the program, talking to the guys, attending games and showing their support. That means a lot to our players when the guys whose jerseys are on the wall are supporting them in their efforts, not just as basketball players, but as people too."
His hard work has not gone unnoticed. He earned conference “Coach of the Year” honors from Collegeinsider.com in 2007 while being named a finalist for the Hugh Durham “Mid- Major Coach of the Year” Award and the Jim Phelan “National Coach of the Year” Award. After winning the league title in 2009,Warren was honored by his peers by being named A-Sun Coach of the Year. Winning at Every Level While this is Warren's first head coaching opportunity, it isn't his first stop where he's had to reclaim a program. In 11 seasons as an assistant coach, Warren helped turn around the fortunes at his alma mater, Mount St. Mary's, Siena and Georgia Tech – eventually helping lead the Yellow Jackets to the national title game in 2004.
During his career as an assistant coach, Warren's teams have been to the postseason eight times, with five NCAA Tournaments bids and three NIT appearances.
"Cliff Warren is a winner on and off the basketball court," said former JU director of athletics Alan Verlander. "He sees the value of playing basketball, but he also sees the value of a great education. Cliff is also a community builder whose level of enthusiasm is contagious throughout Jacksonville. "Cliff's basketball knowledge, coupled with his tenacious personality, is paying dividends for JU. We are fortunate to have a coach of his caliber, and we’re reaping the harvest of his hard work and dedication."
Warren's arrival on campus has transformed the program, providing the dynamic to bring JU Basketball back to the forefront in the community. With Warren at the helm, and the backing of the administration - including President Dr. Kerry Romesburg and Verlander - the Dolphins returned to the Downtown area for the first time since 1999, playing home games at the state-of-the- art Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Arena.
Returning JU to Prominence
His first season saw the Dolphins undergo a rash of injuries, finishing the season with only eight healthy players. Despite winning just one game, the team did not quit at any point in the season and a star was born in freshman Marcus Allen, who earned a spot on the A-Sun all-freshman team.
With his first full year of recruiting under his belt, Warren’s second team pulled off the biggest turnaround in the country – improving from one win to a 15-14 record and a third place finish in the A-Sun. Led by senior point guard Jesse Kimbrough, the Dolphins turnaround came after a 4-8 start that saw Kimbrough develop into one of the most potent scorers in the league – earning first team all-conference honors.
Aiding Kimbrough’s efforts was a pair of freshmen – Ben Smith and Lehmon Colbert. The duo averaged more than 21 points per game combined and were selected to the A-Sun all-freshman team. Another strong recruiting class brought in more talent and much-needed depth, leading JU to an 18-13 record and a second place finish in the A-Sun.
Led by Smith, the Dolphins advanced to the A-Sun Championship game before falling to Belmont in front of a nationally televised audience on ESPN2.
Smith led the Dolphins in points, assists and steals and was ranked in the top five in the league in 10 statistical categories – receiving first team all-conference honors. Joining Smith in the all-conference recognition was freshman Ayron Hardy, the fourth Dolphin in three seasons to earn all-freshman team honors.
All of that provided the back story for the Dolphins title run in 2009, with it all coming full circle in the last game of the regular season at Belmont. Trailing by two with 35 seconds left in overtime, it was Warren’s first signee at JU – Marcus Allen – who calmly stepped up to hit a 3- pointer to give JU the lead one last time to clinch the title.
Allen was a key member of the Dolphins title drive, finishing his career tied for 14th on the school’s all-time scoring list with the legendary Gilmore.
Smith meanwhile enjoyed another stellar season, leading JU in points, assists, steals and 3-pointers – earning first team all-conference honors for the second straight season.
Hardy didn’t suffer a sophomore jinx as well, finishing in the top 15 in the A-Sun in rebounds, blocks and steals to earn A-Sun Defensive “Player of the Year” honors. While the Dolphins lost Allen, they didn’t lose the core of Smith, Colbert and Hardy as they tried to defend their championship. After getting off to a 1-7 start, including an 0-3 start to A-Sun play, the Dolphins went on a run to end the season winning 18 of its final 22 games. JU won 10 straight after the slow start to A-Sun play, tying for the fifth-longest winning streak in program history.
From there, the Dolphins were rolling and clinched a share of their second straight A-Sun title with an impressive 65-52 win over Campbell at home.
Despite an upset loss in the A-Sun semifinals, the Dolphins got another shot at the NIT – traveling across the country to face Arizona State.
Trailing by eight with four minutes to go and five with 20 seconds left, the Dolphins found a way to rally – with Smith banking home the game-winning 3-pointer at the buzzer in a shot that made SportsCenter’s top 10 plays and giving JU its first postseason win since the 1974 NIT.
Prior to JU
Before taking over at JU,Warren spent five seasons as an assistant to Paul Hewitt at Georgia Tech, where he helped lead the Yellow Jackets to 96 wins and four postseason appearances (3 NCAA; 1 NIT). Tech was 20-12 his last season and made its second straight NCAA Tournament appearance. In 2004,Warren helped lead the Yellow Jackets to a 28-10 record and the school's first-ever trip to the NCAA National Championship Game, where Tech lost to Connecticut.
The Yellow Jackets also went to the NCAA Tournament in 2001 following a 17-13 campaign and advanced to the quarterfinals of the NIT in 2002. Warren was nationally recognized for his recruiting abilities as he was named among the top 50 recruiters in the country by Rivals.com.
Prior to joining the Tech staff, Warren spent three years (1998-2000) as an assistant at Siena College under Hewitt, where he helped lead the Saints to a 66- 27 record, two postseason berths and three straight appearances in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Tournament finals.
In 1999, Siena won the MAAC Tournament title and made its first NCAA Tournament visit in 10 years, while ranking third in the nation in scoring with 86.6 points per game.
The Saints followed that by winning the 2000 MAAC regular-season championship and advancing to the second round of the NIT, while once again finishing as the third-highest scoring team in the country (86.7 ppg).Warren's work at Siena was recognized by Eastern Basketball magazine, naming him one of the top recruiters at a mid-major program.
The Silver Spring, Md., native started his career as an assistant at his alma mater, Mount St. Mary's, under the legendary Jim Phelan.
In 1995,Warren helped lead the Mountaineers to their first NCAA Tournament appearance after winning the Northeast Conference Tournament. He followed that with an NIT appearance in 1996 after Mount St. Mary's won the Northeast Conference regular season championship.
Warren was a two-year starter for the Mountaineers, where he finished his career ranked in the top five in assists and top 50 in scoring in the school record book. As a senior in 1989-90, he averaged 10.4 points and 5.0 assists per game, while leading The Mount to its first winning season in Division I (16-12).
Education and Family
Warren earned his bachelor of science in business finance from Mount St. Mary's in 1990 and then worked as a graduate assistant coach and earned a master of business administration in 1993.
Before returning to Mount St. Mary's as an assistant coach in 1994,Warren played professionally for the Frederick Flyers of the Atlantic Basketball Association. Midway through the season, he was named assistant coach. He worked as an intern for the NBA's Washington Wizards in 1993-94.
Warren is married to the former Jennifer Love, and the couple has one child, Jon Clifford (J.C.) II.