Wednesday was supposed to be the day the East Carolina women’s basketball players were introduced to the media. The annual media day would feature interviews with the players and head coach followed by a practice, which would be open for the first fifteen minutes so that the press could capture a photo and video sneak peek of the season, which tips off in less than three weeks.
It turned out to be a very different type of day for the Pirates, who found themselves absorbing the shocking news that their head coach Heather Macy had resigned and assistant coach Chad Killinger had been appointed to lead the team on an interim basis.
Media day was postponed, replaced with tear-filled team meetings and quieter talks between smaller groups of players, trying to make sense of an announcement that felt seismic.
ECU announced in August that its compliance department was conducting an internal investigation of the program, giving little detail about the nature of its concerns.
The notice of Macy’s resignation, which was sent to the media just before noon on Thursday, stated that the review had been completed, and the implication was that its findings, particularly involving the team’s practice habits, had led to Macy’s departure.
“I regret that my misunderstanding about practice rules has led to this end, but I have chosen to resign in order to save the University and the team from any unnecessary distractions,” Macy said in the press release.
The release also states that she will be reassigned within the athletic department until “the completion of her employment” on December 17.
Macy’s record over eight seasons in Greenville was 134-117.
Killinger woke up ready for a normal Wednesday, albeit one full of the pressures of a coach trying to help ready a team for an intense impending schedule. He didn’t even worry about shaving; he would be present at media day, but basketball assistants are rarely requested for interviews at such events.
By late afternoon, Killinger found himself looking at a half a dozen local reporters, stunned as he attempted to describe his previous nine or ten hours and the challenge in front of him.
“We knew there was an investigation that had been ongoing, but at no point did we think it would get to this,” he said.
When athletic department officials gathered the team members to tell them Macy was stepping down, the players were so emotional that one who came in a bit late was sure that someone had died, Killinger said. The women love Macy, as proven by the fact that all of the eligible players from last year’s squad returned to ECU.
Killinger himself, who most recently spent seven years as the head coach at Moberly (MO) Area Community College, came to ECU largely because he admired the program Macy had built there.
“It’s probably about as emotional a room as I’ve been in,” he said. “Those girls, they came here to play for her. We really have a great family environment, and I don’t think that’s something you always see at the Division I level. I think a lot of people will talk that, but they don’t have it, they don’t produce it. That was one of the things that attracted me to ECU; we had eleven returners, no transfers from last year. That’s unheard of. And that was something I wanted to be part of, because I knew good things were on the horizon.”
On Thursday, Killinger will wake up with a singular sense of urgency — one centered in a concern for each player weathering this change — and guided by the need to keep grinding. When Maryland-Eastern Shore comes to Minges Coliseum on November 6 for the Pirates’ season opener, the team that takes the court will be running the same schemes installed by Macy, he said, perhaps fueled by the adrenaline that comes from upheaval and loss.
He has only been part of the staff since June, but in that time Killinger, a father of six, has grown to admire the ECU players. He believes they have the fortitude to turn this difficult thing into something they can celebrate.
“I feel like we were making really good progress,” he said. “We’re not going to change anything, we’re not going to change the offense, we’re not going to change the defense or anything like that, we’re going to kind of keep going status quo. Our biggest concern is the student athletes and trying to help them transition through this change.
“I think we needed to give them an opportunity to decompress a little bit, and obviously give our coaching staff a chance to sit down and talk about what we need to do moving forward.”
Killinger knows how to run a program — in addition to his time at Moberly he served as the head coach at both Lincoln Trail (IL) College and Jacksonville (TX) College — but he will have to call on every bit of wisdom he gleaned in 22 years of coaching as he is handed an opportunity he has always wanted, but never expected to see so soon or under such circumstances.
When Killinger took the job with the Pirates, he told Macy that he hoped to work under her for a few years, and then find his own Division I program to lead, and she was trying to help groom him for that possibility.
“She would say to me, ‘When you become a head coach at this level,’ we were talking about that, and that’s what the goal was for me. I had promised her two to three years of working really hard to get our program to the NCAA tournament.”