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Florida Gulf Coast University goes from unknown to tournament darling

By Steve Almasy and Mark Morgenstein, CNN
updated 3:47 PM EDT, Tue March 26, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Andy Enfield's team is the first No. 15 regional seed to ever get to the Sweet 16
  • Florida Gulf Coast University near Fort Myers has more than 11,000 students
  • Enfield has been successful throughout his life, even off the court
  • The basketball program became eligible for the NCAA tournament two years ago

(CNN) -- About 1,500 texts, voice mails and e-mails, some from people he hasn't spoken to in 20 years, have deluged Andy Enfield's in-boxes over the past few days.

"Ninety-nine percent of it is all excited and congratulatory. But there are some people that e-mail me just out of the blue, or somehow get my cell phone number, and text me and say derogatory things. And that just comes with the Internet age," the youthful-looking 43-year-old Florida Gulf Coast University head basketball coach said Tuesday.

"I believe that this doesn't happen to every coach, because every coach is not a 15 seed," Enfield told CNN's Rachel Nichols on "The Lead with Jake Tapper."

Florida Gulf Coast is the lowest-seeded team to ever advance to the Sweet 16 round of the NCAA college basketball championship tournament. That accomplishment has focused the spotlight on the previously-little-known coach of a previously-little-known university. And it's also focused TV cameras on his telegenic wife, the mother of his three children, who boasts a higher-profile past -- as a model who appeared on the cover of magazines such as Maxim.

Tyler Thornton of the Duke Blue Devils shoots a three-pointer at the halftime buzzer against the Creighton Bluejays on March 24 in Philadelphia. Duke won 66-50. Check out the action from the third round of the 2013 NCAA tournament and look back at the NCAA tournament Round of 64. Tyler Thornton of the Duke Blue Devils shoots a three-pointer at the halftime buzzer against the Creighton Bluejays on March 24 in Philadelphia. Duke won 66-50. Check out the action from the third round of the 2013 NCAA tournament and look back at the NCAA tournament Round of 64.
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"We don't talk about it. Amanda doesn't walk up to people and just say, 'Hey, look at my pictures on the Internet,'" Enfield said. "So, this media scrutiny and attention, I think we're all flattered by it, but it's just not who we are. We're so laid back about our past and what we've done. Really, we just want our focus to be on our team, on what FGCU has done, and this great institution."

Florida Gulf Coast stuns Georgetown in shocking upset

Before last weekend's upsets of regional No. 2 seed Georgetown and No. 7 seed San Diego State, most people -- even players Enfield was recruiting -- had no idea know where Florida Gulf Coast University is.

"They'd think we were the Gulf Coast Community College in the (Florida) Panhandle," he said recently as his basketball team prepared for its first NCAA tournament game. "I would to keep saying, 'No, we are a Division I school. We are in Fort Myers.'

"It just wouldn't register because they had never heard of us."

It's been a quick rise to prominence for a school that didn't even exist 16 years ago and only started its sports program in 2002.

The hoops team, which joined Division I just five years ago and became eligible for tournament play two years ago, was coming off a 10-20 season when Enfield was hired away from his assistant position at Florida State.

It was a tough start. Three team leaders transferred. He had to recruit players while his wife was in the hospital having their third child. (Well, he didn't HAVE to, but he did)

The coach recalls telling his staff that they had two goals: Quickly recruit talent and make the players that were recruited better.

"The chemistry on the team in unbelievable. It's the best I've been around in my years of coaching. I think people see that on the court. We look for the individual personality side when we recruit, and also the talent. Then, we try to develop our players on and off the court," Enfield told Nichols. "I think what you're seeing is our style of basketball these last two games ... we've been successful because our players enjoy their friends and they enjoy playing with each other."

Enfield is used to success. He was valedictorian in high school in Shippensburg, Pennsylvania. As a college guard at Johns Hopkins University, he set the NCAA Division III record in 1991 for career free throw percentage at 92.5%. He parlayed his reputation as a great shooter into a job as a consultant to NBA teams where he helped players improve their form.

Two of those gigs turned into full-time positions as an assistant coach, one with the Boston Celtics. While Enfield taught good shooting technique, he also learned about coaching from Rick Pitino, who is now the head coach of No. 1 seed Louisville.

"Basketball's always been in my blood. My father was a high school coach. He coached ninth grade for 20-something years. It's always been with me. It's my passion," Enfield said.

He majored in economics at Johns Hopkins and received an MBA from Maryland, then left coaching in 2000 to co-found Chattanooga, Tennessee-based TractManager, a contract management company in the health care industry.

Sports Illustrated reported that the privately held company is worth at least $100 million.

"I retain a part of company, but I'm not involved any way in management,'' Enfield told the magazine this week.

His partner, Tom Rizk, said he asked Enfield to be one of the initial investors because he saw some genius in him.

"One of his very significant talents was to be a leader," Rizk told the News-Press of Fort Myers. "People were following him. He is a special guy. He's smart. He's articulate. He's very positive. If there's a guy that could turn a program around like yours, it's him."

March Madness A to Z

While he was working in New York for the company, he was set to drive to Boston to watch the NCAA tournament. A friend said her girlfriend had tickets, too. They were going to fly, but Enfield offered them a ride so they could save the $500.

The girlfriend was Amanda Marcum, a model who had appeared on the covers of magazines such Maxim and Vogue and did runway work in Europe.

"I didn't know her at the time," Enfield said, "but I knew as soon as she got in the car, I knew it would be a great trip to Boston."

For the future Mrs. Enfield, it wasn't exactly love at first four-hour trip.

"No. No. But it worked out after a while," the ardent Oklahoma State fan told the Oklahoman newspaper. "We got engaged pretty quickly after we started dating, and that happened fast, but, no (immediate attraction)."

So Amanda modeled and Andy continued to work as an entrepreneur (he also had a basketball shooting technique video and company). She traveled the world and he watched his company grow.

He wanted to go back to coaching and thought it would be better to raise a family in a college environment. He got an offer from Florida State in 2006, joining the staff of a middling team in the powerhouse Atlantic Coast Conference.

When the Florida Gulf Coast job opened up, Enfield e-mailed about it. Like so many people, he only had seen the young school's scores on the TV ticker and had never been to the campus.

"I didn't know much about the school when I took the job," he said, adding that Athletics Director Ken Kavanagh sold him on the idea of quickly making it a place to build a tradition. "I wanted that opportunity, so that's why I took it."

Enfield signed a five-year contract (which may not stop larger schools from looking to Fort Myers for a coach this off-season) and quickly built a program almost from scratch.

There are just two seniors and two juniors on this year's roster. He recruited four high school seniors and one transfer.

The young Eagles are exciting to watch, and their high-flying offense and highlight reel jams have given Fort Myers a new nickname -- Dunk City.

"I'm pretty confident that we can run with anybody," said Eddie Murray, a 6-foot-8 senior forward. "We don't have the typical big body guys. We have the long, athletic guys who want to run." They also play tough defense, just like Florida State.

Enfield knows that when it comes to recruiting, he's not necessarily going to get guys ready for Division I. Those players go to Kentucky or Duke or other top schools, he said. He gets players who have some talent -- and some flaws, he said.

"We have some of the most improved players in the country on our team this year. They've made huge jumps, and I think that's big in selling that recruiting," he said.

Besides good technique, there is one other thing he teaches them.

"The biggest thing he's given me has just been confidence," Murray said.

The Eagles are confident they can keep pulling off upsets like the ones they sprung on Georgetown and San Diego State.

The Enfields' daughters are hoping the streak continues.

"My oldest daughter's focus is to go to Target to buy a dinosaur from the dollar bin, because that was promised after we got back from the tournament," Amanda Enfield said of their 6-year-old.

Andy Enfield added, "Yeah, I told her if we won the first game, she could get a dinosaur, and our other daughter would get a Barbie. They hit me up after winning the first game and said, 'Can we get another if you win a second game?' At that point I said, 'Sure.' (Laughs) And Amanda said, 'Hey you should ask for more than that.'"

On Friday, they face Florida in a game scheduled to begin just after 10 p.m. ET. Regional No. 3 seed Florida began the tournament as the 12th-ranked team in the country. Odds makers have the Gators as heavy favorites.

Speaking of his intrastate foe, Enfield joked, "It's just unique that we're playing them in the Sweet 16. I blame that on the selection committee. They should have put us in separate parts of the bracket, and we shouldn't have met until the championship game."

Whether Enfield's Eagles pull off an upset, one thing is for sure: Recruiting will be a whole lot easier when he has to call prospects' parents this off-season.

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