March Madness can be a cruel time of year. Just ask the folks at Virginia, Arizona and most of the other 52 teams that have already been eliminated from the NCAA tournament.
But it also has not been kind to East Carolina’s basketball program. And that’s saying something, since the Pirates didn’t even come within the same zip code as an NCAA bid and have been done playing for nearly two weeks.
If you think the ongoing search for Jeff Lebo’s replacement was complicated by the abrupt buyout of athletic director Jeff Compher’s contract last week, that was just a minor inconvenience compared to the effect tournament results may have had on the pool of available candidates for the job.
Just a few days ago, Ryan Odom and Wes Miller were up-and-coming coaches looking to take the next step in their careers by moving up from their current mid-major programs to schools in multiple-bid conferences.
Now they’re both among the hottest commodities in the business with the juice to potentially bypass the intermediate job and skip right to the front of the line for a higher-profile Power 5 gig.
Odom in particular, has seen his stock go through the roof.
Despite being in just his second year as a head coach, the son of former Wake Forest coach (and ECU search firm consultant) Dave Odom became college basketball’s version of Amazon on Friday when he led Maryland-Baltimore County to the greatest upset in NCAA tournament history.
Odom’s Retrievers became the first 16 seed to ever beat a one seed in an opening round game, catapulting him onto the radar of every major program with an opening.
Although Miller’s UNC-Greensboro team didn’t finish the job and pull off a shocker of its own a day earlier, it did throw a major nationally televised scare into Gonzaga. The Spartans led the defending national runnerup into the final minute of that game in a performance that undoubtedly improved Miller’s position in the pecking order of coaching job candidates.
All this, of course, is a moot point if Florida Gulf Coast’s Joe Dooley is — as has been rumored for several weeks — the name at the top of the Pirates’ shortlist.
Dooley’s Eagles missed out on their third straight NCAA tournament trip with a loss to Lipscomb in the America Sun Conference championship game and have already been eliminated from the NIT, making him available immediately.
Whoever the choice may be, whether it’s Dooley, Bobby Lutz, Rob Lanier or anyone still coaching in the tournament, it would behoove ECU not to waste time in pulling the trigger. The longer the Pirates wait, the greater the chance there is that the best candidates will already be gone by the time the coaching carousel slows down enough for them to hop on.
The chances of a speedy hire increased exponentially on Thursday when former athletic director Dave Hart was officially brought back to Greenville by Chancellor Cecil P. Staton.
Hart, who led the ECU athletic department from 1987-95 and recently retired from Tennessee, isn’t the interim AD. Officially, he’s a “special advisor to the chancellor for athletics” whose main focus will be conducting a complete review of the Pirates’ athletic program.
Although he was signed to just a six-month contract, there is a very real possibility he might stay on beyond that and take on the role of a full-time AD.
In the meantime, Hart “will be tasked with providing operational and strategic guidance to the chancellor relating to athletic affairs as well as leading the search for the next head coach of the ECU men’s basketball program,” according to a release announcing his hiring.
Staton couldn’t have made a better choice.
Not only is Hart experienced and respected in the field of athletic administration, but he is also keenly aware of the unique culture that exists at ECU because of its location, budget and other factors. His insight will be invaluable, especially if circumstances dictate another almost inevitable coaching search — this one for a new football coach — later this year.
But first things first …