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It’s been a while since
East Carolina has heard its name announced on Selection Sunday.
Seventeen years to be exact.
Since then, the Pirates
have spent most of their time in the bottom half of the conferences in
which they have competed, both the CAA and Conference USA. Two leagues
with completely different missions, but an ECU basketball program that
has produced essentially the same results.
That’s a pretty revealing
detail when examining the
historical condition of East Carolina hoops.
And it should dismiss a myth to which many of us subscribe, both in the
stands and on press row.
The surefire solution to
fixing East Carolina basketball isn’t as simple as a competitive upgrade
in conference affiliation. If that were so, we would have witnessed
significant improvement during ECU’s initial years of C-USA affiliation
when the league rivaled other power conferences.
Sure, the Pirates pulled
off a handful of shockers, but they never won more than five conference
games when Cincinnati, Louisville, Marquette, and other notables called
C-USA home. And yes, ECU occasionally generated hope with decent starts,
but it has routinely wilted with the commencement of conference play.
"Every good program has to
have a trademark, and you have to have something that you stand for,"
former Pirates Coach Bill Herrion
said back in 2001. "What we
haven't stood for so far at East Carolina in basketball is a winning
“When I took this job two
years ago, I said to myself, ‘If they can win in football, they can win
in basketball.’ Everybody has always told me that North Carolina is a
great state for basketball, so why can't we win in basketball.”
Herrion asked the same
question many have asked, both before and after his tenure at ECU, but
no one has proposed a suitable solution.
We’ve identified the
issues facing ECU. All of them. From the Pirates' athletics mission of
putting football first to their geographical proximity to so many
tradition-rich ACC programs, there is no shortage of opinions on ECU's
lack of success in hoops.
Just like there is no
shortage of opinions on the type of coach the Pirates need to right the
One prevailing theory is
that ECU needs a hot-shot recruiter who can work the AAU circuit and
lure a few blue-chippers Down East. After all, isn’t college hoops much
more about the Jimmy’s and Joe’s than the X’s and O’s?
While there is some truth
to that thinking, hauling celebrated recruiting classes to Greenville is
easier said than done.
Another popular philosophy
is that a successful head coach from a smaller conference is the way to
go. But if we learned anything from Herrion, it’s that success at one
school doesn’t necessarily beget success at ECU.
Not to be disregarded are
former head coaches a few years removed from their glory days who are
interested in one final challenge before riding into the sunset. That
route has worked fairly well at the College of Charleston and Coastal
Carolina, where a couple of old ACC sages produced 20-plus win seasons
Still, that road isn’t
paved with guarantees.
Regardless of which path
East Carolina athletics director Terry Holland takes, we can’t expect
the next coach to work an instant miracle. Nor can we apply 100 percent
of the pressure on him to uncover the solution that everyone else has
failed to do for nearly 80 years of the program’s existence.
While much of the Pirates’
future success does rest on the shoulders of the next coach, the
administration and fans also carry their share of the burden. If East
Carolina is ever going to be successful in basketball, each of the
parties must make a serious investment to make that occur.
That means the
administration must provide the resources and support that the coach
needs to be successful given the unique circumstances the Pirates face.
And it means that Williams Arena at Minges Coliseum must consistently
become the home court advantage it was on a few isolated occasions
during the Herrion era.
That’s not to say that
East Carolina should shift its athletics emphasis from the gridiron to
the hardwood. Not even close. But there is nothing to say that you can’t
reside outside of a BCS automatic qualifier conference and be successful
at both sports.
Just ask Utah and Brigham
Young, two schools that initially built their athletics niche on one
revenue sport, but demonstrated a commitment to winning in both.
Despite the popular belief
that ECU is a basketball wasteland, there is a plan out there somewhere
that would make the Pirates respectable. If you can suddenly manufacture
success in random outposts like St. Mary’s (CA) and Northern Iowa,
surely it can be done at East Carolina.
For years, we’ve been
asking the wrong questions about basketball at East Carolina. Instead of
asking “Why?”, maybe it’s time we asked “Why not?”