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Pirate Notebook No. 338
Thursday, March 13, 2008

By Denny O'Brien

Holland facing difficult task

By Denny O'Brien
All Rights Reserved.

Basketball is the biggest mystery in East Carolinaís athletics history, one with no shortage of theories or one-liners for its lack of success.

Some are believable, some arenít. Some are downright funny.

My personal favorite is the overused assertion that ECUís proximity to Tobacco Road has cast too big a shadow to overcome. Maybe Charlotte, Davidson, and UNC-Wilmington ignored that memo en route to recent NCAA Tournament runs.

Or maybe the Piratesí peg-legged program has used that hypothesis as a convenient crutch for its hardwood horrors.

Then thereís the story of the sacred soil on which Williams Arena at Minges Coliseum sits. The urban legend says it is an ancient Indian burial ground, something akin to the setting of a Stephen King anthology.

That one is even less plausible than the ACC argument, though its common use as a punch line successfully captures ECUís hoops suffering.

Now that the hoops season has mercifully concluded, the overriding question Ė and a serious one Ė is who can end that agony and transform East Carolina into a relevant program. Thatís the question AD Terry Holland must answer, and whatever direction he chooses almost assuredly will draw both cheers and jeers.

Three weeks ago life was much simpler. East Carolina had just punctuated a 1-9 stretch by absorbing a 29-point trouncing at Texas-El Paso, and even the most passionate hoops fans had resigned themselves to relative indifference.

Then there was that encouraging three-game win streak. Despite the fact that it included victories over Rice and Southern Methodist Ė both of which currently would struggle at the NAIA level Ė it provided hope and at least some quantity of tangible late-season progress.

It also added more passengers to the Mack McCarthy Bandwagon, a growing train of vocal supporters who want to see the interim tag lifted from the ECU coachís official title. They no doubt will applaud Holland if that occurs, and will feel confident in the programís future.

But there are those who wonít. This group will lean heavily on a season that produced only nine wins against Division I opponents and included a disheartening loss to an NAIA school.

Anything less than a clean sweep of the hoops staff just wonít suffice for this batch of diehards.

It all amounts to tricky footing for Holland. And for the entire program it is a major crossroads and perhaps its best shot at making a statement Ė one way or the other Ė about the future commitment to hoops at ECU.

It extends beyond the next coach and deep into the pockets of East Carolinaís major monetary contributors. Because when you donít have the BCS dollars to fuel other athletics programs, you depend more heavily on your most faithful financial investors.

Thatís who will help Holland consummate a contract with a capable coach, be it McCarthy or someone else. Itís also who will help subsidize the amenities ECU desperately needs to operate a competitive program.

A suitable basketball-only practice facility immediately comes to mind.

But first ECU must address its most pressing need, which is a head coach operating on multi-year deal and with some runway to make the necessary changes to right the ship. If thatís McCarthy, the announcement should occur sooner rather than later so that any semblance of a spring recruiting class can be salvaged, providing there are scholarships available.

If McCarthy isnít the choice, there is no rush to select a successor. In that scenario it is more important to find the best long-term fit than to quickly choose someone who charms well in an interview.

See John Thompson.

Itís not the most important task Holland has faced during his ECU tenure, but it might be the most difficult one. Thatís partially because there is no clear historical blueprint that provides a foundation for success in basketball at East Carolina.

But itís mostly because there is a large segment of followers that wants McCarthy retained Ė and another sizable group that demands a new direction.

Send an e-mail message to Denny O'Brien.

Dig into Denny O'Brien's Bonesville archives.

03/16/2008 07:04:52 PM

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