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Notes, Quotes and Slants

Pirate Notebook No. 234
Tuesday, March 22, 2005

By Denny O'Brien
Staff Writer and Columnist

Too early to grade Stokes hire


I wouldn't pass judgment on the hiring of Ricky Stokes just yet. In most cases, a fair evaluation period of a head coach consists of three years, if not four.

But the initial reaction here to East Carolina athletics director Terry Holland's decision to hire his former floor general is not one of awe.

With a landscape that features no shortage of assistants on the rise and proven head coaches from lower level schools, it's natural to question Holland's thinking. Though Stokes once was an up-and-comer himself, he struggled in his first stint as a head coach at Virginia Tech, which at the time had a hoops climate akin to ECU's.

Of all the proposed possibilities, Winthrop head coach Gregg Marshall seemed a logical option. With his run of success, he would have been labeled an impressive hire by almost every measure.

Among assistant coaches, Maryland's Dave Dickerson might have made sizable waves. Any time you tap the top aide from a national championship program, potential recruits pay attention and the national media takes notice.

"We call it the longest 19 inches in the world, is moving from that assistant coach's seat to the head coach's seat in basketball," Holland said last week. "It can be overwhelming to be placed in that head coaching position."

And perhaps that is one of the draws to Stokes.

Not only is he familiar with the first chair, he also understands the demands of coaching hoops in a football culture. A quick study of the Hokies Stokes inherited draws similarities to the Pirates he now will oversee.

The only difference is Stokes' prospects for success now are somewhat improved given East Carolina's new conference scenario. The reconfigured Conference USA looks more like the league former Pirates coach Bill Herrion inherited — the CAA — than the juggernaut into which he was quickly thrust.

Heck, given that, logic questions the decision to fire Herrion instead of granting him a year to test the new make-up of C-USA.

"When we tried to put our finger on it, we had a very popular coach, a person we all think a great deal of," Holland said. "But it looked like to me that we had reached the point that literally we — and I don't fault anyone individually here, but obviously Bill is the leader of that — we all were trying too hard to make this thing work.

"And at some point, that kind of pressure, I think, becomes unhealthy. As Nick and I talked, we both were convinced that was not a healthy situation for the individuals involved, as well as for our program."

Any tension that existed with Herrion is unlikely to percolate between Holland and Stokes. The duo has an existing relationship that is predicated on both admiration and respect.

Stokes is to Holland what Steve Wojciechowski is to Mike Krzyzewski — a hard-working protégé whose overachievement fighting spirit earned him eternal favor with his coach.

That ultimately had to factor into Holland's decision.

Holland himself has labeled East Carolina a special place in special circumstances that requires special leaders in order to succeed. That stance is one he says applies to both athletics and the university and region as a whole.

Stokes has spent a lifetime hearing he can't, but he almost always does despite fairly large odds. The case can be made that he is East Carolina personified.

So was Stokes a good hire? The bottom line is we just don't know.

In the near term, Stokes should enjoy a run of reasonable success. The Pirates return a solid nucleus of talent and now have a more manageable league gauntlet.

The future is less certain. Much of that will depend on Stokes' efforts in recruiting, Holland's ability to schedule strategically, and where the Pirates eventually settle in the conference fold.

Regardless, there are a couple of facts that can't be overlooked.

One, Holland knows as much about the college hardwood as anyone on the planet. If he saw something in Stokes as both a player and coach, who is anyone to question his decision for a reunion?

Two, there is little chance that Holland would gamble now given the urgency of the situation. With some of ECU's conference future perhaps pending on an improved basketball profile, you can bet that Holland tapped the guy he thought would best position the Pirates for their next jump.

This is a hire that no doubt doesn't measure high on any seismic chart. But an AD's main responsibility is to make the right hire, not the sexiest one.

From that angle, Holland deserves the benefit of the doubt.

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02/23/2007 01:59:40 AM

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