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View from the 'ville
Thursday, March 20, 2008

By Al Myatt

Holland opts for deliberate approach

By Al Myatt
All rights reserved.

Much of sporting world's consciousness is on college basketball today as the NCAA Tournament gets underway. East Carolina athletic director Terry Holland is concerned with hoops, too, but for different reasons.

Holland is searching for answers about changing a losing pattern at ECU. The Pirates haven't had a winning season since 1996-97.

Holland has an important decision to make and it isn't being done hastily. The basketball coaching position was filled during the 2007-08 season on an interim basis by Mack McCarthy, who appears to be the frontrunner to get the job on an extended basis.

If the Pirate Nation had its way, McCarthy would probably have been awarded a multi-year pact after a 75-69 win over N.C. State on Dec. 8.

But Holland hasn't been in a hurry despite other promising results produced by McCarthy, who also has experienced success at Tennessee-Chattanooga and Virginia Commonwealth. McCarthy has a 320-195 record in 17 seasons as a head coach. That includes five trips to the NCAA Tournament and two berths in the NIT with Chattanooga.

"We are going to take our time since we have a solid nucleus coming back and have a guard already committed," Holland said. "I want us to talk through everything and make sure we all are on the same page for how to move forward before making any decision.

"I am very interested in seeing how the current staff feels about every area of the program, including realistic expectations for next year."

McCarthy signed former Greenville Rose guard Raheem Smith in December. Smith, who is 6-foot-2, played this past season at Louisburg College and wanted to play for a Division I program in his hometown although there were no guarantees that McCarthy would be guiding the Pirates.

ECU will be losing three seniors — Cory Farmer, who averaged 7.6 points per game; overachieving hometown boy Taylor Gagnon and playmaking machine Darrell Jenkins, who dealt out assists at a rate of six per game.

The solid nucleus Holland referred to includes rising senior shooters Sam Hinnant and James Legan as well as junior post players Gabe Blair and John Fields. Hinnant had 30 points in wins over the Wolfpack and Houston. Freshmen point guard Brock Young, center Chad Wynn and perimeter player Jamar Abrams showed potential in more limited roles.

McCarthy took over a program that had won just six games and only one Conference USA contest during the 2006-07 season. The Pirates had never beaten an ACC team and had not won a league road game since 2005. He produced an 11-19 record, the most wins for the Pirates since the 2003-04 ECU club went 13-14.

The Pirates' 5-11 C-USA mark matched their best-ever performance in the league although it should be pointed out that many of the power programs that were in the league when ECU went 5-11 in league play in 2001-02 and 2003-04 have migrated elsewhere in terms of conference affiliation.

Still, McCarthy took the cards he was dealt when Ricky Stokes bowed out as coach and did as much or more than could be reasonably expected. One of the greatest accomplishments was getting the team back on track late in the season after a five-game losing streak from Feb. 9 to Feb. 23.

That losing streak included an 83-49 loss to a Marshall team that the Pirates had beaten in Greenville, a 110-75 blowout defeat at Central Florida and a 91-62 pounding at Texas-El Paso.

Teams with lesser leadership might have been inclined to throw in the towel and go through the motions in the short rows of the season but McCarthy managed to get things turned around with consecutive home wins over Southern Methodist and Houston before notching a rare Pirate road triumph at Rice.

There has been talk that Holland might be interested in bringing former Virginia colleague Dave Odom back to coach the basketball program. Odom guided the Pirates for three seasons beginning in 1979-80 before leaving to join Holland's staff in Charlottesville. Odom announced his retirement at South Carolina during the 2007-08 campaign, effective at the end of the season. It has been speculated that Odom would coach for a designated period and then step aside for son Lane Odom to take over.

There have also been scenarios projected that would bring former UNC-Wilmington coach Brad Brownell, now at Wright State, back to direct the Pirates.

Holland sought to defuse such speculation although it should be noted that he has been a cagey operator in filling previous coaching vacancies.

"I have not talked to any other candidates," Holland said.

According to reports, the ECU AD has talked to McCarthy. Presumably those discussions have included many aspects of building a well-rounded and successful program. Traditional millstones have been cited in ECU's struggles on the hardwood that range from proximity to the ACC and its rich hoops heritage to greater emphasis and interest among the Pirate fan base in football and baseball.

The issue Holland is dealing with involves not only putting a qualified coach in place but one who can overcome traditional obstacles that have kept the program from competing with the degree of success that the ECU AD desires.

Baseball rolling

East Carolina avenged an earlier road loss when it hammered Elon 18-3 this week for the Pirates' 13th straight win. The string of success has lifted ECU back into the national polls at No. 23, according to Baseball America, and at No. 26 in the Collegiate Baseball rankings.

The Pirates were ranked at the outset of the season but dropped out after losing the rubber game of a road series at then No. 2 South Carolina in extra innings.

ECU coach Billy Godwin is not losing sleep over where the Pirates are ranked going into the C-USA opener on Friday against Houston at Clark-LeClair Stadium.

"I can't control the polls so I tend not to pay them much mind," Godwin said. "Every day my focus is on making the Pirates better that day. That means attention to detail and taking care of the little things. If we go out and perform like we're supposed to, the big things will take care of themselves."

The last 11 of ECU's wins in the current streak have come at home.

"It's a huge advantage," Godwin said of playing at Clark-LeClair Stadium. "We're familiar with the surface of the field. The energy the fans create is terrific. In basketball, they talk about the crowd being the sixth man and in Seattle (Seahawks football), they raise that flag for the fans as the 12th man.

"We'd like to raise a 10th-man flag. The guys get excited about playing there. Being in a routine also is very important for these young men and being at home allows you to have that."

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03/20/2008 02:10:21 AM


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