Jeff Lebo’s resignation six games into the season on Nov. 29 has given East Carolina fans plenty of time to identify and debate the merits of any number of potential replacements. It’s a discussion that has heated up in recent days as rumors surrounding some highly recognizable names have begun to circulate on the various Internet message boards.
It would be a longshot at this point for anyone with the resume of a Tom Crean, a Mark Gottfried, a Lorenzo Romar or even a Rick Pitino to realistically be interested in coming to Greenville to lead a program with no appreciable history of success. The risk to a veteran coach in what could be his last opportunity at resurrecting his career is simply too great.
Besides, ECU probably doesn’t have enough money in the budget to afford such a big-ticket item.
Lebo was making a base salary of $500,000 this season. Even with that drain off the payroll, it’s hard to imagine the Pirates being able to up the ante high enough to attract someone used to bringing in between $2-3 million a year at his previous jobs.
But just for the sake of argument, let’s assume that any of those big-name candidates — or someone else like them — will legitimately be in play once athletic director Jeff Compher is ready to make this important hire once the current season is over.
Is a big-name coach really what the Pirates need right now?
It would certainly work in the embattled Compher’s favor to win the press conference by introducing a guy with Final Four or multiple NCAA tournament credentials rather than someone fans need to Google to find out who he is.
The problem is, winning the press conference doesn’t automatically translate into winning seasons, conference championships and postseason bids. Just ask the folks at St. John’s how Chris Mullin is working out for them. And Tubby Smith isn’t exactly burning things up at Memphis.
Even in situations where such hirings have seemingly worked on the court, success has often come with a price. In the case of Larry Brown and Southern Methodist, the cost involved NCAA sanctions for academic fraud and unethical conduct.
Considering that some of those being mentioned as possible suitors for the Pirates come with previous off-the-court baggage, the possibility of trouble following them to ECU is a very real.
Not all out-of-work veteran coaches have skeletons in their closet.
Crean, in particular, would come riding into town wearing a white hat after helping Indiana clean up the mess of a recruiting scandal left by his predecessor, Kelvin Sampson. He’s also earned a reputation for being a skilled recruiter.
That’s one of his major selling points to those getting excited over the drop of his name.
The idea is that a coach like Crean would be able to deepen the Pirates’ talent pool by attracting a higher quality of players. The cold, hard truth, however, is that most of the players Crean was used to recruiting at Marquette and Indiana have their sights set higher than ECU — unless, of course, things haven’t worked out for them at a previous school.
As Pirate fans should be well aware by now, transfers and graduate transfers aren’t exactly the best foundation for a winning program.
Instead of courting a brand name more dedicated to rebuilding his own image with a quick fix than a program with staying power, ECU would be much better served turning to an ambitious younger man with something to prove, along with an eye for between-the-cracks talent and the ability to retain and develop it once it arrives on campus.
Preferably, it would be someone already experiencing success as a head coach at a lower level. But the right up-and-coming assistant, as Kevin Keatts was at Louisville before he was hired by UNC-Wilmington, shouldn’t be ruled out.
It would be naive to think that ECU is currently a destination job and that if successful, the next coach — old or young — would stay for more than just a handful of seasons. The goal should be to find someone capable of leaving things at Minges Coliseum better for the next guy than the previous one left for him.
Regardless of whether they win the press conference or not.