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Pirate Notebook No. 346
Monday, June 2, 2008

By Denny O'Brien

Program back on even keel

By Denny O'Brien
All Rights Reserved.

Billy Godwin hasnít enjoyed the smoothest seas as East Carolinaís skipper. From the moment Terry Holland lifted the interim tag from his title, some questioned Godwinís ability to lead a program of ECUís stature.

Some of the criticism has been fair, some hasnít.

Much of the cynicism could be attributed to the fact that Holland didnít open a national search after Randy Mazeyís dismissal. Many hoped for a home run hire, the type of coaching heavyweight to pair with the Piratesí new facility to build a perennial power.

Fair enough.

There also is the legacy of Keith LeClair, and the expectation that anyone who mans the Piratesí dugout should match or exceed the accomplishments of ECUís greatest. Given LeClairís accomplishments and the glaring disadvantages he faced, the climate is far more forgiving for building a big-time winner.

At least thatís the prevailing thought. But, truthfully, it isnít the case.

Though Godwin has the grandeur of Clark-LeClair Stadium to which he can recruit, he faces some serious challenges that have magnified since any of his predecessors last made a pitching change. From East Carolinaís advancement in conference membership to the overwhelming improvement of its in-state rivals, it has become increasingly more difficult to secure a coveted No. 1 seed and make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament.

For starters, Godwin is the only ECU coach to experience Riceís dominant reign over Conference USA. No longer can the Pirates consider themselves the premier program in one of the nationís most respected baseball leagues.

Then thereís the evolution of North Carolina as one of the nationís elite and N.C. Stateís rise to Top 25 status. For years neither the Tar Heels nor Wolfpack were viewed as a major threat to the Piratesí diamond dreams, but both have emerged as difficult obstacles in ECUís path to Omaha. Their success has presented a challenge both on the recruiting trail and in the Piratesí quest to host an NCAA Regional.

This goes without mentioning the less-than-ideal circumstances under which Godwin was hired. It occurred at a time that, while East Carolina was well-respected nationally, many of the internal details of the program were being neglected.

There were rumblings of moral erosion from the programís leadership, and the overall team chemistry was a serious issue. To suggest that Godwinís initial role emphasized sanitation is an understatement.

Despite the questions about his hiring and the criticisms heís endured, there is no denying that Godwin has advanced the program since he inherited it. When you consider where East Carolina was when Holland removed Mazey and where it is now, Godwin deserves credit for completely overhauling the Piratesí image.

And heís done so while improving ECUís competitive profile.

From his inaugural season to now, there has been a steady climb from missing the postseason to making it to the championship of an NCAA Regional. Thatís only one step shy of the programís peak Ė NCAA Super Regional berths in 2001 and 2004.

Yet many will perceive Godwin based solely on the Piratesí loss to Coastal Carolina last night. Placing increased emphasis on the most recent performance seems to be the protocol whenever some have uncertainty about a coach.

That certainly was the case at one point in Elliot Aventís tenure at State, when fans often appealed for his dismissal after almost every loss. Itís a good thing for the Wolfpack that the administration didnít listen to those emphatic pleas.

Godwin hasnít quite experienced that sort of outcry, nor should he. For the first time since LeClair was in charge, East Carolinaís program is on stable footing.

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06/02/2008 02:23:18 AM

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