Special adviser to the chancellor Dave Hart found a basketball coach tailor-made for East Carolina, one that had already proven himself as a Pirate, albeit before the turn of the millennium.
Hart took the personal approach in narrowing the field of candidates and ultimately selecting Joe Dooley.
“The interviews we had in our home in Knoxville,” Hart said. “I had done that throughout my career when it was coaching candidates or administrative hires. That was what we did. Lee Workman (senior associate athletic director at ECU) came to our home. He spent four-and-a-half days or so with us as we brought candidates into Knoxville, into our home, where they could feel comfortable and share a meal with us — just talk casually and then talk more specifically in a formal interview setting. That’s how we conducted the search process.”
Hart knew Dooley in previous stints for both at ECU and that facilitated their conversations that stemmed from the resignation of Jeff Lebo in November.
“After we had had four hours together, we had some hours in the evening,” Hart said. “He was recruiting in Nashville so he drove over to Knoxville and we had time that evening and then the better part of the next morning.
“We had good candidates. All of the candidates, I felt, could have come here and done the job. All the candidates fit the profile from various perspectives, but as I told the chancellor (Dr. Cecil Staton), in making the recommendation, Joe Dooley checks all the boxes.
Joe and I have a trusting relationship, so the conversation was very easy to get into and at the end of that time with Joe, I told Lee Workman this guy checks all the boxes.”
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Additional resources needed
As Staton noted last week, ECU is behind much of the American Athletic Conference in the financial resources it puts toward athletics. That gap needs to be reduced in order for the Pirates to gain ground.
“It will take a commitment,” Hart said. “There’s already a commitment. The chancellor is very committed to the whole athletics program. He understands that while athletics will never be the most important thing on a campus, it is clearly the most visible element of the total university. I’ve always felt that way and I’ve always articulated it that way. We’ll have to support Joe. Just like Scottie (Montgomery, football coach) and every coach here, we’ll have to offer the level of support that is warranted to get where we want to go.
“In basketball, we haven’t had a lot of tradition or success at a very high level. One of the things that intrigued Joe the most beyond the obvious that he articulated at the press conference is he’s in a multi-bid league. East Carolina is in a multi-bid league. It’s tough when you’re in a one-bid league. You either win the tournament or you go home. You don’t go to the NCAA Tournament. That was a very attractive part of the basketball assessment by Joe.
“I told him he would be impressed and he has been when he saw the basketball practice facility and some of the other key pieces that are in place.
“We’ll talk. We’ve got several months to talk about things that can make the program take an immediate step forward. All of that, we have plenty of time to discuss and we’ll operate within our financial means but we’ll also have a plan to take another step forward financially and do the things that we want to do. Again, the chancellor has been extremely supportive of these types of conversations.”
Hart said some improvements can be made that will get the attention of recruits.
“There are things within that statement that impact recruiting, for example, that we’ve discussed very specifically,” Hart said. “Because you can take five visits as a prospect. If those young men are assessing and buying with their eyes — and they are, whether we like that or not — then if they come to East Carolina as their last visit if they don’t see the commitment in certain areas then it makes the decision less likely. So we’ll address those types of things, along with just intrinsic commitments, which are already here and how can we collectively raise the level of success of our men’s basketball program. That will be a common thread.”
Staff is an area Dooley cited. He started as an assistant at ECU in the early 1990s. That was part of his discussions with Hart.
“The travel is important,” Dooley said. “It’s not an easy travel league. Staffing is very important. Some of the things that always get overlooked are being able to hire quality assistants. We need to be able to pay those people. Just as important is being able to make sure the student-athletes have a good experience. The little things, hopefully, down the road, the training table type deal, the fueling stations. Those things are all important.”
Emphasis on recruiting
Recruiting is a key to improving on a 10-20 record in 2017-18. The Pirates were 4-14 in the AAC.
“We’ve got to recruit the state first,” Dooley said.
The ECU coach planned to establish communication quickly with high school coaches.
“Team camps and recruiting camps are very important to us,” he said. “Good players are consistent with success. Like every other sport, you’re a good coach when you have better players. That comes into recruiting and relationships and that’s something we’ll do. We’re going to try to hit the road running, recruiting-wise especially.”
Dooley has been meeting with existing personnel in the program.
“We’re going to see what guys’ future plans are,” Dooley said. “The first thing we do is get competitive. It will be a progressive deal. We need to get some players in here who want to compete, some guys who want to be here academically. That will be the first step. Then we’ll start moving from there.”
DeShaun Wade and Mike Wynn have reportedly decommitted from the incoming class. Former Farmville Central star Tyler Maye is leaving Virginia Commonwealth and ECU is a possible destination.
Dooley wants to play aggressive and fast but style also will depend on personnel.
Eddie Payne brought Dooley to ECU
Hart hired Eddie Payne to coach basketball at East Carolina after the 1990-91 season and Payne brought Dooley aboard as an assistant.
“Eddie Payne and Joe Dooley are terrific people, before you ever get to talking basketball,” Hart said. “They’re the type of people that you would want to surround yourself with in the corporate world, the athletic world, university world. They’re just terrific people. Their core values are what they are and they’re not going to compromise them.
“I thought when Eddie came here, Eddie would give us a chance — and he did — to put his stamp on basketball at East Carolina. This was before the renovation of Minges. We had what was basically back then a high school gym. That didn’t scare Eddie off. Eddie wanted desperately to be the head coach here at East Carolina. We remain very close in terms of our respect for one another, communication and so on.”
Payne guided the Pirates to their second and most recent NCAA Tournament berth in 1993.
Hart went on to hire Leonard Hamilton at Florida State and Rick Barnes at Tennessee.
“Joe has a lot of those very same qualities as some of these other coaches,” Hart said. “That’s where it starts. Joe wanted to be here and Joe did check all the boxes. Joe understands that this is a grassroots opportunity. That’s one of the things I loved about being at East Carolina.”
Dooley was promoted to head basketball coach at ECU by Dr. Henry VanSant, interim athletic director, when Payne went to Oregon State after the 1994-95 season. Mike Hamrick dismissed Dooley with a 57-52 career record after the 1998-99 season and brought in Bill Herrion.
“I don’t think, necessarily, that it was a bad experience,” Dooley said. “It might not have ended well, but I do think the totality of eight years was a very good experience. We liked it here. Our family liked it here. It’s an exciting time to be back, especially with the new league and some of the things that the university wants to do.”
Dooley’s parents, Joe and Margaret, continued to live in Greenville while Dooley was an assistant at New Mexico, Wyoming and Kansas before returning to the head coaching ranks to take Florida Gulf Coast to two NCAA tournaments.
“Usually they came to Florida or Kansas,” Dooley said. “It was a little easier with my schedule for them to travel. It will be nice for them to spend a little time with the grandson.”
Changes include a $20 million addition to Williams Arena at Minges Coliseum, the Smith-Williams practice facility and athletic hall of fame.
“I was really surprised in a positive way about the practice facility,” Dooley said. “You hear it’s a nice facility. The good thing is you could still make it even nicer without having to renovate. There are some graphic things we’d like to do. From a structural practicality standpoint, the offices, the practice facility — those things are all nice. That’s the good news. You don’t have to build something. You can tweak some things, but that’s good.”
Dooley has picked up a few things along the circuitous route back to ECU.
“Hopefully, I’m older and smarter,” Dooley said. “I think the biggest thing is never to settle. … If you’re afraid to try to go after guys, you’re not going to be any good. We’re not going to be afraid.”
“It is a winnable situation,” Dooley said. “Is it going to take some time? Yep. But we knew that getting into it. Now, we’ve got to build the right type of culture and get the right type of guys in here who want to help East Carolina be good.”
Drew Steele with a bear hug
Drew Steele, the son of former Pirates coach Mike Steele, smiled and gave Dooley a big hug after the news conference last week.
“How cool was that?” Dooley said. You know what? That’s what it’s about. It’s about community.”