By Rubin E. Grant
The opportunity was just too good for Bucky McMillan to pass up.
On Monday (April 6), he was named the new men’s basketball coach at Samford University, leaving his job as boys basketball coach at Mountain Brook High School.
“I’ve always said I wouldn’t move anywhere else to be a high school coach,” McMillan said. “(Mountain Brook) was the job of a lifetime for me, being at a place I love. I had chances to be an assistant coach (at the college level), but this is the place I grew up loving and the only way I could leave would be for a (NCAA) Division I head coaching job. I don’t know how to be an assistant. I’ve never been an assistant.”
Samford fits the profile of a college job McMillan would accept.
“You can say there are better basketball jobs in the country,” he said. “Kentucky is a better job and North Carolina is a better job, but this is the best job for me. It’s right here in the city and only three miles from where I live.
“I know the values of the university and the high standards they have. I am ecstatic to be going to work for one of the top Christian universities in the country. I am excited to get to Samford and build relationships with the faculty and staff, and most importantly with the student-athletes.”
McMillan, 36, played high school basketball for Mountain Brook from 1999-2002 and college basketball at Birmingham-Southern College from 2002-2006.
He spent 12 seasons as the Spartans’ head coach, leading Mountain Brook to unprecedented success. He guided the Spartans to the state finals in the Alabama High School Athletic Association’s highest classification seven times and won state championships in 2013, 2014, 2017, 2018 and 2019. This season the Spartans were Class 7A runners-up, losing to Lee-Montgomery 40-38 in the championship game and finishing with a 32-3 record.
McMillan posted a 333-74 record at Mountain Brook, averaging nearly 28 wins per season.
He said this was the right time to leave.
“I can walk away from Mountain Brook and know it’s in great hands,” McMillan said. “We built a great program and it will continue to be a great program. This is an opportunity for me to be a Division I coach, straight from high school. Somebody said there are only 450 players in the NBA, but there are only 353 head coaches in Division I, so you can say it’s tougher to have one of these jobs than it is to make it as a player in the NBA. It is something I couldn’t pass up.”
McMillan replaces Scott Padgett, who was fired on March 16 after the Bulldogs finished this season with a 10-23 record. Padgett had just two winning seasons in six years with Samford, ending his tenure with an 84-115 record.
Samford Director of Athletics Martin Newton was pleased to land McMillan.
“When we set out to hire a new coach for our men’s basketball program, we had three main criteria,” Newton said. “We wanted someone with head coaching experience and a proven track record of winning championships, someone who could excite and engage the Birmingham and Samford communities and someone who understands and embraces the mission of our great university.
“Bucky McMillan quickly became the obvious choice. Bucky has a proven track record of winning championships, a tireless work ethic, a unique basketball mind and the energy and enthusiasm to bring championship basketball to Lakeshore Drive.”
Alabama basketball coach Nate Oats believes McMillan will be successful at Samford.
“As a former high school coach myself I am excited for both Bucky and Samford University,” Oats said in a media release announcing McMillan’s hiring. “Bucky is someone who has put his time in and climbed the ladder to earn this opportunity. I have only known him a short time, but have seen first-hand that he has the unique ability to connect and motivate his players, the knowledge to evaluate and develop them and the drive and passion it takes to coach at a high level. I’m confident he will do some great things at Samford.”
UAB coach Andy Kennedy also praised the hiring.
“I was an assistant coach at UAB in the mid-1990’s when a young, tough, smart little point guard came to our camp and led his team,” Kennedy said.” Bucky was a good player at BSC before embarking on an incredibly successful high school coaching career at his alma mater. I’m truly excited for him as he embarks on the tremendous opportunity provided to him by Samford University. I can’t wait to watch him do great things at that great university.”
McMillan’s departure from Mountain Brook comes during a global pandemic because of the coronavirus.
“It’s wild,” McMillan said. “I had to tell my players I was leaving on Zoom.”