Mike Hamrick may have left East Carolina for UNLV in 2003, but 15 years later the legacy of his time as the Pirates’ athletic director continues to be felt.
And not in a good way.
Hamrick’s ill-fated decision to replace football coach Steve Logan with John Thompson was an unmitigated disaster that set the program back several years. But that wasn’t his worst personnel mistake.
That prize goes to Hamrick for letting basketball coach Joe Dooley go in favor of Bill Herrion.
Dooley, to this day, still has the highest winning percentage (.523, 57-52) of any ECU basketball coach in the Division I era. Herrion’s teams never finished higher than .500 in his six seasons with the Pirates, and the program has yet to recover.
It’s a downward spiral ECU’s current athletic director Jeff Compher finally has a chance to reverse with his upcoming hire of yet another new basketball coach.
At the same time, he can also right an old wrong by using that hire to bring Dooley back to try and finish what he started in Greenville more than two decades ago.
Dooley’s name is believed to among those on the first page of the short list to replace former coach Jeff Lebo, who resigned before he could get fired back in November, citing a desire to move on to the next chapter in his life.
Although there are plenty of other attractive candidates that figure to be considered — UNC-Greensboro’s Wes Miller, East Tennessee State’s Steve Forbes and former Charlotte coach and N.C. State assistant Bobby Lutz among them — the 52-year-old Dooley appears to be the popular choice judging from the comments of Pirate fans on the various Internet message boards.
Their opinions are based on more than just nostalgia.
After spending his first few post-ECU seasons as an assistant at New Mexico and Wyoming, Dooley’s stature in the coaching profession began to rise again during a decade as Bill Self’s right-hand man at Kansas. He was a key contributor to the Jayhawks’ 2007-08 national championship team, an association that eventually earned him another shot at coaching a team of his own.
That opportunity came in 2013 at Florida Gulf Coast, a challenging situation to say the least considering the program’s surprising Sweet 16 run the season before.
You remember Dunk City, don’t you?
But despite the pressure of following up that success, Dooley has managed to continue FGCU’s winning ways with five straight 21-plus win seasons and two NCAA tournament appearances. This year’s team, which lost to Lipscomb in the Atlantic Sun Conference championship game, is 23-11 and guaranteed an NIT bid.
Dooley is considered one of the nation’s top recruiters, having been rated as high as No. 4 nationally among college basketball recruiters by Rivals.com. Among the players he attracted to Kansas are future NBA draft picks Sasha Kaun and Mario Chalmers.
He also showed his in-game coaching chops Sunday when he kept his players engaged and motivated after they fell behind by 32 points in the first half of Lipscomb. Although his Eagles weren’t able to come all the way back and win the game, they gave it a good try while cutting the deficit to as few as five in the closing minutes.
Because of his reputation and resume, Dooley’s name — along with those of Miller, Forbes and others on ECU’s radar — will make him a hot commodity once the coaching carousel begins spinning in earnest over the next few weeks.
As such, there’s no guarantee he’ll be available to the Pirates, assuming he’s even interested in the job.
After all, ECU didn’t show much faith in him the first time he was there, casting him aside after just four seasons in 1999 before he had a realistic chance at building a program.
But there are many more positive reasons to consider a return.
For one thing, his parents still live in Greenville. There’s also the matter of money. His current base salary of $275,000 is only about half of what Lebo was making and what Compher is likely to offer. He would also be coaching in a conference that figures to get three NCAA bids this year, instead of just the winner of a hit-or-miss postseason tournament.
Most of all, there’s something to be said for having the chance to come back to a familiar place and right an old wrong. And in the process, help to rewrite a legacy that has haunted the Pirates for far too many years.