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Basketball is the biggest
mystery in East Carolinaís athletics history, one with no shortage of
theories or one-liners for its lack of success.
Some are believable, some
arenít. Some are downright funny.
My personal favorite is
the overused assertion that ECUís proximity to Tobacco Road has cast too
big a shadow to overcome. Maybe Charlotte, Davidson, and UNC-Wilmington
ignored that memo en route to recent NCAA Tournament runs.
Or maybe the Piratesí
peg-legged program has used that hypothesis as a convenient crutch for
its hardwood horrors.
Then thereís the story of
the sacred soil on which Williams Arena at Minges Coliseum sits.
The urban legend says it is an ancient Indian burial ground, something akin to the
setting of a Stephen King anthology.
That one is even less
plausible than the ACC argument, though its common use as a punch line
successfully captures ECUís hoops suffering.
Now that the hoops season
has mercifully concluded, the overriding question Ė and a serious one Ė
is who can end that agony and transform East Carolina into a relevant
program. Thatís the question AD Terry Holland must answer, and whatever
direction he chooses almost assuredly will draw both cheers and jeers.
Three weeks ago life was
much simpler. East Carolina had just punctuated a 1-9 stretch by
absorbing a 29-point trouncing at Texas-El Paso, and even the most
passionate hoops fans had resigned themselves to relative indifference.
Then there was that
encouraging three-game win streak. Despite the fact that it included
victories over Rice and Southern Methodist Ė both of which currently
would struggle at the NAIA level Ė it provided hope and at least some
quantity of tangible late-season progress.
It also added more
passengers to the Mack McCarthy Bandwagon, a growing train of vocal
supporters who want to see the interim tag lifted from the ECU coachís
official title. They no doubt will applaud Holland if that occurs, and
will feel confident in the programís future.
But there are those who
wonít. This group will lean heavily on a season that produced only nine
wins against Division I opponents and included a disheartening loss to
an NAIA school.
Anything less than a clean
sweep of the hoops staff just wonít suffice for this batch of diehards.
It all amounts to tricky
footing for Holland. And for the entire program it is a major crossroads
and perhaps its best shot at making a statement Ė one way or the other Ė
about the future commitment to hoops at ECU.
It extends beyond the next
coach and deep into the pockets of East Carolinaís major monetary
contributors. Because when you donít have the BCS dollars to fuel other
athletics programs, you depend more heavily on your most faithful
Thatís who will help
Holland consummate a contract with a capable coach, be it McCarthy or
someone else. Itís also who will help subsidize the amenities ECU
desperately needs to operate a competitive program.
A suitable basketball-only
practice facility immediately comes to mind.
But first ECU must address
its most pressing need, which is a head coach operating on multi-year
deal and with some runway to make the necessary changes to right the
ship. If thatís McCarthy, the announcement should occur sooner rather
than later so that any semblance of a spring recruiting class can be
salvaged, providing there are scholarships available.
If McCarthy isnít the
choice, there is no rush to select a successor. In that scenario it is
more important to find the best long-term fit than to quickly choose
someone who charms well in an interview.
See John Thompson.
Itís not the most
important task Holland has faced during his ECU tenure, but it might be
the most difficult one. Thatís partially because there is no clear
historical blueprint that provides a foundation for success in
basketball at East Carolina.
But itís mostly because
there is a large segment of followers that wants McCarthy retained Ė and
another sizable group that demands a new direction.