Tiny Dancers: Chattanooga adds bid to record debut for Matt McCall

Matt McCall has set a program record for wins in his first year as head coach. (USATSI)

After working as a student manager, staff member and assistant coach under Billy Donovan at Florida, Chattanooga coach Matt McCall should be used to winning championships. Still, there has to be something awesome about leading an historic program back to the glory land, and setting a new school record along the way in your first year as a head coach.

“I learned from the best. I really did. I’ve been blessed to be with some great coaches, none better than Coach Donovan,” McCall told ESPN after the win. “I’m so happy for these players. They’ve been through a lot. I’m the third head coach for some of these guys. They deserve it.”

The Mocs extended its school record for wins in a season with their 73-67 win against East Tennessee State in the Southern Conference title game on Monday night, backing up a regular season conference title with the league’s automatic bid to the 2016 NCAA Tournament. Chattanooga could have gone into Selection Sunday with a chance to make the field of 68 as the loser of this game, but McCall and his players have to be glad to avoid that stress.

You see, Chattanooga is not your average Tiny Dancer. The 29-5 Mocs earned the right to be a legitimate contender for an at-large bid with wins at Dayton, at Georgia and against Illinois out of conference. The win against Dayton is not only the most impressive on their tournament resume, but maybe the most important for the team’s season since it came right after losing preseason Player of the Year Casey Jones to an ankle injury.

But while the resume was enough for the NCAA Tournament discussion, it’s only fitting that such a big season for this program was highlighted by a conference tournament title. The win gives Chattanooga 11 SoCon tournament titles (second all-time in league history) and puts the Mocs back into the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2009. The last time Chattanooga was in the field of 68, they had the full support of younger Jimmy Fallon, then in his first years as the host of “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon.”