When Seabury Academy athletic director Brian Clyne began his search for a new boys basketball coach, he quickly met Cougarmania.
"Everybody kept recommending this guy," Clyne said. "It took me forever just to find his real name."
The name - Matthew "Cougar" Downing Jr. - is familiar to northeast Kansas basketball fans, spanning a 20-year odyssey that saw him win two state titles while playing for his father at Atchison High, continue his career at Dodge City Community College and the University of Maryland, and return as the director of basketball operations at Sport 2 Sport in Lawrence.
On Wednesday, he took over for the departing Marcus Heckman as the second boys basketball coach in Seabury's nine-year history.
"This is my first varsity job, but I've been around the game since I've been old enough to walk," said Downing, 36. "Just growing up around the game, you pick up so many things."
The Seabury job became available when Heckman, who is relocating to Bartlesville, Okla., announced his move two months ago at the conclusion of the 2005-06 season. Once word got out, Clyne said he was caught off-guard by the interest in the position.
"I had some really good candidates. It even surprised me," Clyne said. "It surprised me with the quality of people we had look at the position."
However, he kept coming back to Downing, thanks in part to his relationship with some of Seabury's returning players.
Once Clyne delved into his candidate's basketball background, it made for an attractive package he couldn't overlook.
"He's just a huge hire for us. It's just immediate recognition with a lot of people around here," Clyne said.
"I've been saying all along, next year we begin our 10th year as a school. I look at it as an extra-important year for us as a school and an athletic program. We're making a concerted effort to step it up."
Downing feels some of Seabury's unique attributes - a private-school education, an independent classification with the Kansas State High School Activities Association and its location in a basketball hotbed - can make that desire a reality.
"Just being in Lawrence and the way the community is growing, I think the potential for the program to grow has no limit to it," Downing said.
"It's really an academic school, but I think athletics will become an important part of the school if we focus on it."