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View from the 'ville
Friday, January 30, 2009

By Al Myatt

ECU a destination, not a stepping stone

By Al Myatt
All rights reserved.

East Carolina has batted 1.000 in some crucial personnel retention situations in recent weeks and that has some very positive implications for the future of Pirate athletics – particularly football.

The latest to decide that the grass wasn't necessarily greener outside of Greenville was Dr. Steve Ballard, ECU chancellor.

Ballard interviewed at Kansas State for the president's position and toured the campus in Manhattan earlier this week before deciding that he wouldn't be a great fit at the Big 12 school.

The Wichita Business Journal reported Thursday that Ballard, one of three finalists, had withdrawn from consideration for the top spot at K-State.

"The simplest reason is that Kansas State just didn't feel as good to me as ECU does," Ballard said in a statement released through ECU. "You always learn something interviewing for competitive positions, and this one reminded me what a great place ECU is and how much I like working with the people here."

That's pretty strong for a guy who spent 13 years in an academic setting in the Midwest as a member of the faculty at Oklahoma. Ballard has been chancellor at ECU since May of 2004.

From all indications, Ballard has a good working relationship with ECU athletic director Terry Holland, whom Ballard hired within months of his arrival in Greenville. Ballard was wise to listen to counsel when his initial choice for AD was relatively-inexperienced Rick Hart, son of former Pirate AD Dave Hart.

The younger Hart was involved in athletic merchandising at Oklahoma at that time.

Ballard's background distinguishes him from many high level education administrators. Ballard was shortstop and captain of the baseball team at Arizona, earning three varsity letters and helping his team to the College World Series as a senior.

Ballard's competitive experience brings a rare perspective to the lofty and powerful position that is the chancellor's office.

Maybe it doesn't take a genius with an advanced degree to realize it's better to be an hour from the coast than make a move to land-locked Manhattan, which was expecting a low of 20 degrees last night.

ECU is the fastest growing university in the state with an enrollment of 25,990 and there are many intriguing initiatives in progress to challenge the chancellor, particularly in the fields of education and health care.

Once viewed as a stepping stone to bigger and better things, Ballard seems to be part of a growing number who have realized that there is plenty of room for professional growth without leaving East Carolina University.

That seemed to be the conclusion that football coach Slip Holtz reached last month despite reports of a multi-million dollar, 5-year offer from Syracuse, a program with plenty of tradition as well as the allure of membership in a BCS conference.

Holtz rebuffed the Orangemen before beginning preparations with the Pirates for the Liberty Bowl as champions of Conference USA.

"While it is always flattering for others to have an interest in your abilities, I simply am too focused on our preparations for the bowl game and many other of our short and long-term goals to fairly evaluate what I feel is a promising situation at Syracuse," Holtz said in a statement released through the media relations office. "I appreciate Syracuse's interest but that certainly is a direct reflection on what our players, coaches and the Pirate Nation have been able to accomplish, especially through a season that featured so much adversity."

To hear Holtz talk about fulfilling long-range goals was like salve for those who were agonizing over his possible departure. The fallout was minimal as one tight end who had given a verbal commitment to the Pirates decided to change his choice in favor of Boston College.

When the BC job opened up earlier this month, Holtz quickly put to rest any rumors that he might jump the Pirate ship to become Jeff Jagodzinski's successor.

"The continuing speculation and various media reports regarding my candidacy for positions other than the one I currently have and enjoy at East Carolina, are inaccurate," Holtz said.

"As I have previously stated, I am not seeking another position and am not involved in any discussions that would promote or verify such conjecture. On the other hand, I view this apparent media-based interest as another positive reflection on what our players, coaches, administration and the Pirate Nation have been able to accomplish over the last few seasons. I couldn't be more proud of how hard they played and what they accomplished on the field.

"While some aspects of this added visibility might be considered flattering, my primary focus remains solely on continuing to build our program. In the short term, that centers around recruiting."

It's one thing to talk about loyalty to an institution. It's another thing to show it when other schools are attempting to woo prominent personnel away.

Holtz's coordinators, Todd Fitch and Greg Hudson, explored some possibilities with some BCS programs, but Fitch is apparently set to return and direct the offense while Hudson will once again lend his expertise to the defense.

You can't place a value on continuity. Ask former Pirates such as ex-quarterback James Pinkney what it's like to have a new offensive coordinator every spring.

The return of starting quarterback Patrick Pinkney for a sixth season of eligibility was uplifting news from the NCAA for the ECU fan base just last week.

"I consider myself very blessed with the opportunity to enjoy another year with my teammates and coaches, and play one more season at East Carolina," Pinkney said. "To be a part of this program's first conference championship in many years last season was rewarding and I'm looking forward to being in a position to help contribute to a new set of goals in 2009.

"Obviously, ECU is a special place for me and my family, and I'm thankful for the NCAA's decision to allow me to get one year back."

The Pirates could conceivably have been looking at a future without Dr. Ballard, without Coach Holtz, without coordinators Fitch and Hudson, and without Patrick Pinkney.

Instead of a series of potential transitions, each of which would have entailed its own adjustment period and repercussions, the Pirates have achieved an unprecedented state of solidarity. Very little is changing in terms of leadership personnel and that bodes well.

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01/30/2009 12:48:14 AM


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