In the excellent movie “The Post,” Katherine Graham is giving a lavish dinner party — a retirement soiree for a friend — when she learns of a highly sensitive and tense situation involving The Washington Post, the newspaper for which she is the publisher, and the potential release of the Pentagon Papers.
The consummate DC hostess, Graham does her best to keep the appetizers moving through the crowd and the toasts going even as she scurries off to a quiet office to make the most seismic decision of her professional life.
In the world of East Carolina athletics over the past week, the dinner party has been carrying on in the typical early spring manner — a 6-4 softball victory over UNC-Wilmington, a spring football practice in which sophomore quarterback Reid Herring completed 17-of-21 passes for 153 yards, a 2-1 baseball win over Elon on a walk-off sacrifice fly from Andrew Henrickson.
But underlying these normal sports accomplishments and preparations are conversations in quiet rooms with the potential to herald significant change in Pirate Country.
No official announcement has emerged since Friday’s statement concerning the buyout of athletic director Jeff Compher’s contract, and message board chatter and rumors are often little more than sandcastles with huge waves looming to take them down. But since speculation is preferable to radio silence, we undertake a midweek check-in with some of the real and imagined players in the current ECU carousel ride:
• Florida-Gulf Coast head coach Joe Dooley, one of the most oft-mentioned names in conjunction with the ECU basketball job, concluded his season on Tuesday with an 80-68 NIT loss to Oklahoma State. After the game, he responded to a Naples Daily News reporter’s question about the links between his name and openings at ECU and Missouri State.
“I like our situation,” Dooley said. “We’ve got a good team coming back. I like our guys. We’ll come back and try to be good again next year.”
Dooley, who has compiled a record of 114-58 at FGCU after assisting Bill Self at Kansas for a decade, spent four years as the head coach at ECU in the late ‘90s before then-athletic director Mike Hamrick let him go and hired Bill Herrion from Drexel. Dooley’s current athletic director at FGCU, Ken Kavanagh, told the Naples Daily News last Wednesday that he had not received a request from any athletic director to interview Dooley.
• The other coaching candidate receiving some buzz in the Pirate Nation, University of Maryland-Baltimore County coach Ryan Odom, is still in the thick of his own postseason quest with a first-round NCAA matchup against top-seeded Virginia on Friday, so he is less likely to address any rumors. But his father Dave Odom, the former head coach at ECU, Wake Forest and South Carolina and a consultant with the firm that was hired to assist in ECU’s search, commented on his son’s rising star in an interview with sports radio host David Glenn on Wednesday.
“I have to step out of the room when my son’s name comes up,” Odom said of his role with Collegiate Sports Associates. “Any time my son’s name comes up I say, I’m out of it. One thing no one can argue with me about: Ryan Odom has earned his teeth on his own. And whatever he gets, he deserves.
“He’s as deserving of a human being as there is.”
In the two years since Odom took over at UMBC, the Retrievers have won 45 games — four more wins than they notched in the seven years prior to Odom’s arrival.
• In light of Compher’s buyout, speculation has swirled as much around the potential for an athletic director hire as it has around the basketball coaching position. On Wednesday several sources raised the name of former ECU and Tennessee athletic director Dave Hart, who retired from UT in June. If Hart comes to Greenville, he is more likely to serve as a short-term consultant on a rescue mission than to take a long-term job.
On the official comment front, of course, things were characteristically quiet, but no one with ties to the Ward Building believes that the dinner party chatter is the only conversation worth listening to. Two members of the basketball search committee and one top ECU official declined comment on Wednesday about activity to fill the key posts.
But with the dawn of Thursday will come another opportunity to crash a routine dinner party with something out-of-the-ordinary — a possibility that becomes more likely by the day.