Laid up with a bad back and his pro basketball career winding down in April 1992, Clyde Vaughan called a friend to catch up. He wasn't fishing for a job, or even a lead, but the guy offered.
"I was on a plane to California the next day," Vaughan said.
And the rest, as it goes, is Long Beach State history. Vaughan joined the men's basketball staff of his longtime friend, 49er Coach Seth Greenberg, and his contributions have been key to the program's success.
This season, Long Beach (17-10, 12-6 in the Big West Conference) won its first regular-season conference title since the 1976-77 season. The 49ers are seeded first in the conference tournament, which begins tonight at the Lawlor Events Center in Reno.
The affable, hard-working Vaughan is respected by peers and appreciated by 49er players because he's already been where they are and hope to be. Not bad for a guy only four years into a second career that almost never was.
"The coaching just came overnight," Vaughan said.
Vaughan played professionally in England for seven seasons, leading his league in scoring four times.
This followed his standout career at Pittsburgh, where Vaughan twice was selected the Big East Conference player of the year. Vaughan was drafted by the Indiana Pacers in 1984 and was among the final cuts in training camp.
Toward the end of his last season in Europe, Vaughan, 34, developed back problems. He underwent major back surgery and was recuperating at home in New York when he called Greenberg.
Vaughan and Greenberg have known each other since Vaughan was a high school All-American in Mount Vernon, N.Y., and Greenberg was a young assistant coach at Columbia. Greenberg coached Vaughan at Pittsburgh and they have been close friends since.
"I was thinking about going back to try to play in Europe or just retiring," said Vaughan, who resides in Long Beach with his wife and two children. "I really just called Seth to see how he was."
Fate works that way. Greenberg needed another assistant. He was considering candidates when the call arrived.
"People asked me, 'How can you hire a guy who has never coached?' " Greenberg said. "I knew I could teach him to coach. I hired him because I care about this profession and you need good people in this profession."
Vaughan handles national recruiting and works with centers and forwards. Vaughan also advises players academically.
"Clyde approaches the profession the way he approached basketball as a player--and that's 100%," Greenberg said. "Clyde has a great feel for people and he's very understanding and straight up."
UCLA assistant coach Lorenzo Romar agrees.
"Clyde is very personable, very likable," Romar said. "He's a hard worker and he's humble, but he's not a pushover. He speaks his mind."
Although Vaughan has relatively limited coaching experience, he is confident in his knowledge of strategy. He learns quickly because he listens well and studies constantly.
"I've learned a lot from friends and especially from Seth," Vaughan said. "As far as X's and O's and teaching, Seth is one of the best.
"I'd feel very comfortable now if I had to take over the team, but I'm trying to get better every day. I watch college games on TV all the time. Not to watch but to see what each coach is thinking, exactly what they're doing. You can always work on that, each day you can learn."
Vaughan is the de facto lead assistant, but doesn't get caught up on that stuff. The program's progress is his only concern.
"I don't have a big ego," Vaughan said. "Seth gives me a lot of things to do, and everybody knows I'm the top guy right under Seth, but how can I stop the players from thinking about 'I' if I think that way?"
The 49ers are convinced.
"He knows the game and he knows how to win," senior forward Juaquin Hawkins said. "He's a real important part of what we do."
Vaughan wants to run his own program someday. He isn't ready yet, but he said he's getting close.
"You never know when that will come," Vaughan said. "You just have to prepare yourself."
Romar believes his friend has what it takes.
"Without question Clyde can [be a head coach]," said Romar, who will take over at Pepperdine when the Bruins' season ends. "He can really evaluate players and he understands players. It's just a matter of him finding the right match."
Negotiations continue between Long Beach and Seattle Seahawk officials about the NFL team conducting its preseason training camps on campus, sources said. Long Beach, one of eight Southland schools initially considered, is believed to be the Seahawks' top choice. Long Beach is seeking a multiyear deal, but potential housing problems must be alleviated. Moreover, the NFL is attempting to block the Seahawks' move. . . . Long Beach President Robert Maxson is moving closer to naming an interim athletic director to replace Dave O'Brien, who will start at Temple on May 1. Maxson would like to have the position filled by the end of the Big West tournament on Monday. Bill Shumard, assistant vice president for university relations and development, and Bill Husak, associate athletic director, are the leading candidates. . . . The baseball team (13-7) plays Washington State at 4 p.m. today in the Kingdome tournament at Seattle. The game is scheduled to be broadcast by KORG (1190). . . The women's tennis team (6-2) travels to San Francisco today for a 1:30 p.m. match, and the track and field team travels to USC for a meet Saturday.