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Don't miss Al Myatt's profile of ECU Chancellor Steven Ballard in the 2004 Bonesville Magazine.

View from the East
Thursday, February 24, 2005

By Al Myatt

"What you see is what you get"


   • Postgame Audio: Herrion, Rouse & Badiane

   • Associated Press Game Story
   • Al Myatt Game Analysis
   • Box Score
   • Game-by-Game Schedule, Scores, Attendance


GREENVILLE — Bill Herrion isn't a fashion plate. Others may pace the sideline in expensive suits but he often wears a golf shirt.

He isn't a personality contemplating a transition to a cushy television analyst's job.

And he realizes he isn't a fundraiser, which was the life raft offered by East Carolina athletic director Terry Holland when Herrion was told on Tuesday that he would be walking the plank as basketball coach at the conclusion of the season.

"What you see is what you get," Herrion said simply after a 77-66 home win over Southern Miss on Wednesday night moved the Pirates to 4-10 in Conference USA. "I'm a basketball coach."

Herrion's focus on getting ECU into the Conference USA Tournament was shifted abruptly on Tuesday when Holland conveyed the terms of dismissal.

"It's been a tough couple of days," Herrion said Wednesday night. "Emotionally, I've been trying to keep things together. I was concerned if the players would come out and play hard."

Herrion shouldn't have worried about that.

The Pirates went ahead to stay at 52-51 on a free throw by 6-foot-10 senior Moussa Badiane with 10:49 to play, the start of a 7-0 run completed by 3-pointers from Japhet McNeil and Tom Hammonds that gave ECU a working margin down the stretch.

Badiane (13 points, 13 rebounds) and junior forward Corey Rouse (21 points, 13 rebounds) had double-doubles as the Pirates won a league game by double figures for the first time since trimming the Golden Eagles 63-50 on March 6 of last season.

"It's been weird," Badiane said. "Especially for the guys coming back. But we practiced hard like we usually do and it paid off. ... We're still playing for something. To hear (about the coach being removed) the day before a game was not the right time to hear this stuff."

ECU is trying to finish in the top 12 in the league standings of C-USA's 14 basketball-playing members in order to qualify for the league tournament March 9-12 in Memphis. The outcome before 4,826 in Williams Arena at Minges Coliseum on Wednesday night lifted the Pirates into a tie for 11th — above Tulane (3-10) and Southern Miss (1-13).

"We've been trying to get around the subject by focusing on the game," Badiane said. "As a player, we can't control the situation or do anything about it. ... The season's still going. ... We're trying to finish strong, get to the conference tournament and make a run.

" ... We know Coach is going through a tough situation. We all have relationships with him because he recruited all of us. It must really be tough for him. We want to really play good for him."

Herrion was mystified by the timing of Holland's action.

"It's a disappointing thing," said the Pirates hoops coach for the last six seasons. "There are three games left in the season. It's kind of sending a message to the players that the last three games aren't important."

Herrion tried a business-as-usual approach with his team during a personally-trying time.

"I didn't say, 'Let's win one for the Gipper,' or anything like that," he said. "It's still, 'Let's win one for us.' "

The youthful Pirates, who played four true freshmen a total of 61 minutes against the Golden Eagles, improved to 4-4 over their last eight games. Sophomore Mike Cook scored 19 points and Hammonds, one of the rookies, added 15.

Until Tuesday, Herrion said the message from Holland, a successful hoops coach at Davidson and Virginia, had essentially been "hang in there and keep working."

"We've been doing that," Herrion said. "Right now we're playing pretty hard and pretty well."

Herrion said he indicated to Holland on Tuesday that he wasn't geared for fundraising.

"No disrespect for fundraisers but I've never done anything else (other than coach) in my professional life," he said. " ... I would coach a high school team the way I coach these guys."

Herrion said, "I'm going to leave here with my head up." He feels he has the program at a point where it can be successful in a reconfigured C-USA in 2005-06.

Herrion took over a program that struggled in the Colonial Athletic Association and faced a deficit in terms of resources, talent and tradition when matched against C-USA powers such as Louisville, Cincinnati and Marquette. He lost players to academics, injuries and transfers during an uphill 4-year battle to make ECU competitive in C-USA.

Now that uphill struggle is drawing to a close.

The students chanted "Bill, Bill, Bill ..." in the final minute on Wednesday night and cheered the coach when he returned to the floor to do his postgame radio segment.

"That felt nice," Herrion said. "I'm not a guy who's going to leave here with a vendetta. This place has been special for me and my family for six years. I don't want to leave but it's not my choice. The fans have been special here. We're so close to turning the corner and when this program gets there, the roof is going to go off this place."

Herrion has never had a winning season at ECU and after a 60-50 loss at South Florida on Saturday night dropped the Pirates to 8-17 this season, Holland made his move.

"I imagine it wasn't enough wins," Herrion said. "The kids have played hard, we didn't cheat, the kids haven't been on the front page and they've graduated. If you meet our kids, they're good kids. I'm proud of what we've done.

"I don't think any of you have any idea how difficult coaching is, except for maybe Coach (Randy) Mazey (baseball coach). We've had some great wins and most nights we've been very competitive.

" ... We've taught the kids how to work hard, how to practice and how to compete. I can look you in the eye and tell you they'll win games next year. They're going to finally turn the corner as far as wins and losses. I promise you that's going to happen."

Sense of humor still employed

ECU closes its home schedule against Houston at 7 p.m. on Saturday. The Cougars are coached by Tom Penders, who used to coach against Herrion's father, Jim.

"Tom Penders was coaching at Tufts and my dad was coaching at Worcester Polytechnic Institute in the mid-1970s," Herrion told the media following the win over Southern Miss. " ... If we added all of your SAT scores together, none of us could get in there."


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02/23/2007 12:34:02 AM

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