North Carolina Central’s LaVelle Moton withdrew his name from consideration for East Carolina’s basketball coaching position on Thursday, about 24 hours after he formally interviewed for the job.
It’s a development that’s either an encouraging sign that the far-too-long process of finding a permanent replacement for Jeff Lebo is finally coming to an end or a troubling sign that the pool of candidates realistically interested in taking the job is rapidly drying up.
More will be known in the next few days, since no announcements were going to happen during a holiday weekend in which the eyes of the entire basketball world were trained on San Antonio and the Final Four.
Either way, this is a frustrating time for Pirates fans hoping for a hire that will breathe at least a hint of life into their perpetually stagnant program.
ECU was the first team in the nation to have a coaching opening this season when Lebo walked away after just six games in late November. At the rate they’re going, the Pirates are going to be one of the last to fill their opening.
Some of the blame for that delay can be placed on the shoulders of now-former athletic director Jeff Compher, who helped derail the process by deciding to negotiate a buyout of his own contract at the absolute worst possible time.
ECU’s search committee may also have complicated matters by shooting for the moon in hopes of luring a brand name such as Tom Crean or Mark Gottfried to Greenville.
Instead Crean is at Georgia, Gottfried is at Cal State-Northridge and Tubby Smith, who was unexpectedly dispatched by Memphis, was quickly gobbled up by his alma mater, High Point. And the rest of the coaching carousel continues to spin at a high rate of speed.
Danny Hurley has left Rhode Island for American Athletic Conference rival UConn and UNC-Asheville’s Nick McDevitt is now at Middle Tennessee while Ryan Odom and Wes Miller have announced they’re not going anywhere. Even Western Carolina made a splash by bringing in Skip Prosser’s talented son and former Winthrop assistant Mark Prosser.
So where does that leave ECU?
With a high probability of botching a hire that should have been a breakaway slam dunk.
Moton’s withdrawal means that either the Pirates have zeroed in on the man they want and he’s been told it’s not him, or they’re running out of viable options. Barring any surprises, the realistic possibilities are down to Florida Gulf Coast’s Joe Dooley, former Charlotte coach and N.C. State assistant Bobby Lutz and ESPN talking head Seth Greenberg.
In other words, the same cast of characters that were available three weeks ago.
Lutz is a solid candidate who got Charlotte to five NCAA tournaments and was the Xs and Os man that helped Gottfried engineer four straight postseason appearances at N.C. State before getting pushed into an administrative position.
Greenberg would be a much more iffy proposition, since the former Virginia Tech coach is the type to be more interested in resurrecting his career with a quick fix rather than laying the kind of foundation upon which every successful program is built.
And then there’s Dooley, who to this day has the highest winning percentage (.523, 57-52) of any ECU coach in the Division I era. His tenure was ended after just four seasons in a move that still has folks who were around in 1999 scratching their heads.
The 52-year-old Dooley has since gone on to earn a reputation as one of the nation’s best recruiters, who helped win a national championship as an assistant at Kansas in 2008 and engineer five straight 21-plus win seasons at FGCU.
Because of his ties to ECU and the success of his current team, Dooley would be a popular choice who by all indications would have taken the Pirates job as soon as his Eagles were eliminated by Oklahoma State in the first round of the NIT on March 13.
But now Compher’s interim replacement Dave Hart may have to wait for Dooley to make a decision, since all indications are that he’s under consideration for the much more attractive post at Rhode Island. That’s assuming he’s even interested at all, considering that his role in ECU’s continuing drama is the basketball equivalent of a safety school.
Needless to say, this isn’t the optimal way to handle a coaching search.
That doesn’t mean the Pirates won’t end up with someone capable of turning their fortunes around and creating a consistently competitive program. It’s just that if they do, it will happen by accident, not design.
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