Notes, Quotes and Slants
Notebook No. 118
Friday, March 28, 2003
By Denny O'Brien
Staff Writer and Columnist
Direction of hoops program
deserves vote of confidence
In most cases, a 12-15 season wouldn't result in a contract extension,
but Bill Herrion despite a modest 48-65 record in four years should be
the exception to that rule.
True, industry standards would argue against such a move. After all, East
Carolina failed to improve on last year's win total and ended the season in
an all-out tailspin, losing 15 of its final 20 games, not to mention each of
its last six.
What's more, when you compare Herrion to his predecessor Joe Dooley a
one-year rollover would be tough to justify. Dooley compiled a respectable
57-52 mark in four seasons, but was dismissed after not meeting the
In Herrion's case, though, traditional measures can't be used as a
barometer for determining job tenure.
Hired in '99 to take over a traditionally mediocre program from a
middle-tier conference, few were banking on the Pirates gaining inclusion in
Conference USA. That's exactly what happened, though, and it forced Herrion
to downshift his rebuilding campaign and start again from the ground up.
Considering those circumstances, four years isn't nearly enough to steer
a program to success in one of the nation's premier leagues, let alone a
school like East Carolina, which lacks a strong thread of hardwood heritage.
"I don't think anybody knew what to expect going into Conference USA,"
Herrion has said. "I think I even used the term we've got to figure out how
wide is the 'gap'?"
After two full seasons of C-USA play, the gap is now clearly defined. To
become more competitive, East Carolina must stockpile its roster with better
talent, and to do so, there needs to be a firm statement that Herrion
remains the future of Pirates basketball.
Even though Herrion's job is ultimately secure, a four-year contract can
be the difference between inking a blue-chipper and losing a crucial
recruiting tug-of-war. Herrion's current deal runs through the 2005-06
season, meaning that without an extension, the Pirates coach can't promise
incoming recruits he'll be there for their entire career.
Evidence to support an extension lies in the numbers, as in the scores of
fans that are filling Williams Arena at Minges Coliseum on a fairly regular
basis. Over the past two seasons the Pirates have shattered attendance marks
and overflow crowds are no longer a rare occasion.
Without question, C-USA membership has much to do with the heightened
interest in Pirates basketball, which during its CAA days lacked drama and
excitement. Matchups with Louisville, Marquette, and Cincinnati have far
greater appeal than dates with James Madison, Old Dominion, and Virginia
Yet, you can't overlook the tireless efforts of Herrion, who through
speaking engagements across campus and on the Pirate Club trail, has spread
an epidemic of enthusiasm as infectious as bubonic plague.
"I get a little bit confused at times when I go out and do the Pirate
Club circuit and go out to the alumni, people thought we had a great year
last year," Herrion said last summer. "Sometimes I sit back and say, 'You
know what? We only won 12 games.'"
High standards for success, along with a previous track record of
postseason glory at Drexel, are clear indicators of Herrion's ability to
lead a striving program. All he needs now is better talent and that
doesn't occur overnight.
Whether or not Herrion can eventually lead East Carolina from purgatory
to the penthouse remains to be seen, but at the very least, his ability to
sell Pirates basketball deserves a nod of approval from his superiors.
Herrion has clearly articulated where he wants to lead ECU hoops and has
expressed confidence that the program is on the right path.
"Our ultimate goal with East Carolina basketball is we want to get to
postseason play," he said. "The NIT or the NCAA, that's our ultimate goal.
And we want to get there quick.
"Again, I go back to if we're doing the things we're supposed to do, our
kids are playing and competing really hard, and we're bringing good players
in I really like where we're going."
The administration should, too.
And that should be worth a one-year extension.
Paramount to the Pirates' future success is the bagging of a dynamic
point guard. From the get-go, Herrion has proclaimed it No. 1 on his agenda.
But with Jason Herring's knee still in question and signee Keith Foster's
academic situation up in the air, Herrion recognizes the frontcourt is
another area of great concern.
"Where I think we're at with our program right now as we put it together
and we build it and we move forward, probably the biggest thing that we
face, particularly with our frontcourt our big guys is depth," he said.
"I think with Moussa, Gabriel Mikulas, and Erroyl Bing, we've got three
solid frontcourt players that have gotten great experience and a lot of
playing time and are going to be good players in this conference, but we
Talented big men are in short order, Herrion says, which makes it
especially tough to lure blue chip horses Down East.
Though there have been a few exceptions ie. David West (Xavier) and
Chris Marcus (Western Kentucky) the traditional powers have formed a
monopoly over skilled post players.
"When we go out and recruit in the summer and we go to these all-star
camps and these AAU national tournaments," Herrion noted, "the hardest
position to recruit for us where we're at right now (is post players)
because everybody wants good big guys."
Combining C-USA's American and National divisions next season could do
wonders for the Pirates' win-loss record. East Carolina played in the the
tougher of the two divisions, the American, which produced three NCAA
tournament teams this season.
According to Herrion, though, the move won't come without consequence, as
Pirates fans are no longer guaranteed an appearance by the league's biggest
"I think for East Carolina, it's good-bad," Herrion said. "I think a lot
of our fans were really waiting for Cincinnati to come into this arena; to
see a nationally-ranked program; to see a Bob Huggins; to see a basketball
team that, for years, has played at a very high level.
"I think for us at East Carolina, with the two divisions, I think our
side is pretty tough. Now, I'm not saying that we could go on the other side
and just win basketball games. That's not what I'm saying. But now when you
go to one conference, I think maybe for East Carolina, you might not be
bringing in the marquee programs and coaches so to say, but now I think it
gives everybody a fair chance."
Scheduling upgrade needed
C-USA membership has significantly bolstered the Pirates' strength of
schedule, which ranked 78 out of 327 teams this season.
Improving the non-conference slate should be next on the agenda.
When asked about scheduling last summer, Herrion didn't have a strong
opinion, but did note that winning out of conference was crucial due to the
lineup of heavyweights the Pirates face in league play.
"Right now, I don't really have a view," he said. "I think the bottom
line right now is we've got to win.
"Teams that we think we should be able to beat, right now, I don't know
how much better we are than those teams. We're improving, we're getting
better, and we're building this thing. But I think right now, the philosophy
is in the non-conference schedule, we've just got to win. We've got to take
every game one game at a time and we've got to try to win that game."
A quick breakdown of the Pirates' non-conference lineup isn't pretty.
Only two opponents played in leagues that received more than one NCAA bid.
Two more were from the Division II ranks.
Perhaps the most puzzling game was a December 23 date with Coastal
Carolina in Conway, SC. Kind of tough to create a big-time feel when you
make appearances in high school gyms, isn't it?
That isn't to suggest East Carolina needs to frontload its schedule with
Florida, Kentucky, and Texas. However, adding a few of the nation's premier
mid-majors would be a significant upgrade from the usual cast of
UNC-Wilmington would be a good start.
Send an e-mail message to Denny O'Brien.
Click here to dig into Denny O'Brien's Bonesville
02/23/2007 01:53:01 AM