CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) — Bobby Cremins knew he had nothing left to give his College of Charleston players when he walked away from the game last month.
Cremins said Monday he was physically exhausted and advised by his doctor to make drastic changes or risk jeopardizing his long-term health. That's when the popular coach, famous for his blinding white hair, knew he'd have to make one of the most difficult decisions of his career.
"I had nothing. I had no gas. The tank was empty," Cremins said Monday. "The kids knew. They could feel it."
So Cremins went on an indefinite medical leave of absence — one that the 64-year-old coach didn't seem ready to end anytime soon.
"My energy level is still not where it needs to be, but I'm definitely feeling a lot better," he said.
The coach said he has had several tests done and nothing life-threatening was uncovered.
Cremins came to campus from his home on Hilton Head to answer emails, complete paperwork and see athletic department colleagues. He planned to talk with the team before practice and visit more friends Monday evening before heading back to his island house about two hours south.
Cremins also wanted to set to rest whispers of more serious medical conditions that might've caused him to step aside. Cremins said it was exhaustion, plain and simple.
"I wish I could explain it," he said. "It's in my DNA."
He joked that he and Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun, who used to have a home on Hilton Head, could've recuperated together. Calhoun took a medical leave from the Huskies last week for spinal stenosis.
Cremins would not discuss when or if he might return to basketball. "I'm not even thinking about that," he said.
Cremins is in his sixth season with the Cougars, a favorite to win the Southern Conference and earn the coach another trip to the NCAA tournament. Things looked promising early as the Cougars posted nonconference wins over Clemson and Tennessee before league play started. But the team lost six of eight games before Cremins' stunning move.
Cremins did not like the losses. However, he felt the uneasiness and fatigue was something more serious than a bad stretch of basketball so he sought medical attention.
Cremins is in his sixth season with the Cougars after spending 19 years coaching Georgia Tech. He has led Charleston to 20 victories in each of his seasons, but his teams haven't been able to win the Southern Conference tournament to get to the NCAAs. He is 579-375 in 31 seasons of coaching, and the Yellow Jackets named their home court for him before he returned to coaching in 2006.
Cremins grew up in the Bronx then came south to play for South Carolina and fellow New York-transplant Frank McGuire. He got his first head coaching job at Appalachian State, leading the Mountaineers to the NCAA tournament in 1979.
Three years later, he left for Georgia Tech and the Atlantic Coast Conference. He led the Yellow Jackets to nine NCAA tournament appearances and reached the Final Four in 1990. He also won three ACC tournament titles and two regular-season crowns before the program tailed off and he was let go after the 2000 season.
Cremins spent the next several years as a college basketball analyst, playing tennis on Hilton Head, until deciding to come back to coaching at the College of Charleston.
Cremins acknowledged feeling "burned out" while at Georgia Tech and sought to re-energize himself when he accepted the head coaching job with his alma mater, South Carolina, in 1993. Cremins, though, reneged three days later and returned to the Yellow Jackets for seven more seasons. Cremins has said he sought a psychiatrist's help recovering from that flip-flop.
"Now, I know why I waited six years to get back into it," Cremins said, chuckling.
Cremins has played tennis and golf and gone on daily walks to regain his health. What he hasn't done much is watch the Cougars.
He'll ask his wife, Carolyn, when games are over if the team played well — not if Charleston won or lost. Cremins did slip up last Thursday night, returning from a walk as the Cougars were entering overtime against Elon — a game the Phoenix would win 99-98 in two extra periods.
"I don't know how often I can do that," Cremins said.
He talks with interim coach Mark Byington often, just usually not about basketball. Cremins said his former assistant is completely in charge and won't face any meddling from him down the stretch.
Cremins will text junior guard Andrew Lawrence with a message to give the players. "I couldn't be prouder of all of them," Cremins said.
The Cougars (14-10, 6-7) have gone 2-2 since Cremins' departure. Cremins hasn't had much to say since abruptly leaving.
"Now, maybe we can put some closure to the Bobby Cremins chapter," he said.
Follow Pete Iacobelli on Twitter @PeteIacobelli