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Pirate Notebook Special
Monday, June 26, 2002

By Denny O'Brien
Staff Writer and Columnist

Q & A about baseball with Mike Hamrick

In a wide-ranging interview during the recently concluded season, East Carolina's athletic director talked about Keith LeClair, 'The Jungle', the new stadium project, the prospect of Pirate baseball becoming a revenue sport, and more...


Since his arrival in 1995, athletics director Mike Hamrick has seen East Carolina undergo many changes.  From facilities expansion to Conference USA inclusion, Hamrick has been at the epicenter of a dynamic and exciting period in ECU athletics.

With the resignation of baseball coach Keith LeClair, Hamrick faces what is perhaps his toughest task since arriving in Greenville — replacing the coach who is arguably the most successful in school history, regardless of sport, when measured in terms of accomplishments per year of tenure.

I had a chance to sit down with Hamrick midway through the season to talk about baseball, the new stadium, and Keith LeClair. Here's what he had to say in this exclusive interview:

Q:  What attracted you to Coach LeClair five years ago?

A:  I was looking for a head coach that had been successful, had been to the NCAA tournament, and had won some games.  But, I wanted that coach to be from a program that really didn't have all of the resources necessary to get to that next level.  In other words, I wanted a coach that had overachieved.  Nothing against Western Carolina, but their budget wasn't where it needed to be.  The facility wasn't great.  The weather's not great over there.

But, Keith did such a great job over there, and we recognized that.  After really doing our homework and talking with people and looking at the success that he had, the people he beat, we knew right away that he was our guy. 

Q:  Why has he been able to win the way he has here, in terms of taking the program to a new level?

A:  I think the first thing is that Keith has a vision.  The first thing Keith said to me is "I want to come to East Carolina and I want to try to get this program to Omaha.  Everything he does with the baseball program is based on taking it to Omaha.  He has that vision, he's smart, and he can judge talent as well as anybody I've ever seen.  And to be a successful coach, when you recruit, you've got to be able to judge talent.  He's done a great job of doing that.  He's an extremely hard worker, too.  But, I knew all of this when I hired him because you find all of those things out when you talk to him.

He's a genuine, sincere person, which appeals to recruits.  That really appeals to recruits' mothers.  When I hire coaches, the number one question that I have to get answered is, 'Can that coach go in a living room with a mom and a dad, and a17-18 year-old kid, and convince all three of them that, first, I'm the coach that you want to play for?' And ,secondly, 'I'm going to convince you to come to my school.'  I really believed Keith could do that.  I used my wife as an example.  If he could come in and convince my wife that she wants her son to come play with him, then I think that's the most important characteristic of a coach.  I felt Keith had that.

Q:  Has he surpassed your expectations?  Did you imagine this type of success when you hired him?

A:  To be honest, I knew we would be very competitive.  I knew we would be successful.  But to be real honest, I never thought we would be where we're at today.  We're sitting here (Harrington Field) tonight and there's going to be 3,000 people packed in here.  Five years ago, we were lucky to get 100 people to a baseball game.  We've sold over 1,000 season tickets at $100 apiece.  Five years ago, we sold 100 season tickets at $30 apiece.  Keith has gone way over my expectations, but that's just Keith.  That's the way he's always been.  We knew that when we hired him.

Q:  How disappointing was it for you as an athletic director to be an NCAA #1 seed two years in a row, and have to travel down to the bayou?

A:  Well, it was disappointing, and I promised Keith after that second year after Lafayette that we would do everything we can so that he doesn't ever have to go on the road again if he's the #1 seed.  We took care of that last year.  We put together a great package, and we went out, hustled, did all the politicking, and got the regional and the super regional right here in our back yard.  We're going to do the same thing again this year if we're in the mix.  We've got Kinston for the regional booked and we've got Wilson for the super regional booked.  We're going to put in a very competitive bid.

But we can only do that so much — we've got to have our own place to play.  We're keeping our fingers crossed that our fans will continue to step up and help us financially build a stadium so that we can have those regionals and super regionals right here in front of us — 3,000-4,000 screaming Pirate fans right here in front of us.

Q:  So, do you think that those types of attendance numbers could be an every-night occurrence with a new stadium?

A:  There's no question.  That's been our dream.  That's been our vision.  We have fall football games and everybody comes.  Basketball is now going in the right direction, finally — I'm convinced it is.  And now, baseball.  A Pirate fan once told me that after that last football game, he'd look at that guy beside him and say "Well, I'll see you next fall."  Well, guess what he's saying now.  "Well, I'll see you in Minges."  And after that, "I'll see you at Harrington Field."

I think we've changed the mentality from we're a football school to we're not only a football school, but we've got a good basketball program and we've got a great baseball program.

Q:  Do you think that the new stadium will make baseball a revenue sport at East Carolina?

A:  Yes, absolutely.  I think baseball can be a revenue sport at East Carolina.  Even if it just breaks even, that's such a plus for us.  These guys have overachieved with this stadium.  You can't be the number four team in the RPI with this kind of stadium consistently, with this stadium.  They've overachieved.  You know, everybody has always said, "Mike, East Carolina does more with less."  And we have.  But my philosophy is not I want to do more with less.  I want to do more with more.  Pretty soon, I'm going to be able to look at people and say, "Guess what, we're doing more with more."

Q:  One of the most common questions that is posed regarding the new stadium is "What about the Jungle?"  I hear it, and I know you hear it.  What are your thoughts about that?

A:  You can still have the "Jungle" atmosphere in our new stadium, and we're going to try to keep that.  That's a good atmosphere -- it's one we like.  Occasionally, we have a few problems with it, but we deal with it.  The new stadium will have picnic areas.  It'll have an area for the jungle.  It will be a stadium that is conducive to a family atmosphere. 

But you know what, we didn't have a jungle in Kinston, and we didn't have a jungle in Wilson.  I always remember shaking the hands of the AD at Tennessee and he told me after the Kinson games, "Mike this is the best college baseball atmosphere that I've ever seen."  I think the new stadium can accomodate that.  I want to make sure that everybody understands that.  Even though the stadium is going to turn around, we're going to still try to have an area where people can tailgate and socialize and do the things that they do in the jungle.

A new stadium is progress.  There are always people against progress and change, but this baseball team deserves a new stadium.

Q:  How has coach LeClair's battle affected you personally?

A:  Well, I haven't really commented publicly on that, but it's devastating to me.  I took some heat from some people when I made this hire (LeClair).  I took some heat from some people when I made a change in the baseball program with the previous coach, whom I have all the respect in the world for — Gary Overton.  But, the change needed to happen.  My credibility is tied in to Keith LeClair because I went and got Keith LeClair, and I'll tell everybody that. 

To see what he's dealing with right now is just absolutely devastating to me.  It's something that I'm just having a really hard time dealing with.  He's a remarkable person, there's no doubt about that.  If I had Keith LeClairs here in every program, we'd win a bunch of national championships.  He's that kind of guy. 

Q:  They got so close last year.  Do you think this is a program capable of winning a national championship?

A:  There's no question.  Now, it's obvious we're in a much more difficult conference.  We'll have to continue to recruit up to the conference's level.  But with a new stadium, and the commitment we're making to baseball, I'm convinced we can win a national championship here at East Carolina.

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02/23/2007 01:46:10 AM

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