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Pirate Notebook No. 422
Monday, March 15, 2010

Denny O'Brien

Hoops issues go deeper than coaching

By Denny O'Brien
All Rights Reserved.

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 tradition.

“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 ship.

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 this year.

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.


O'Brien: Hoops issues go deeper than coaching
BVL: Seven teams live another day
BVL: C-USA Tourney Scoreboard
BVL: East Carolina 3, Pepperdine 2
Peele: A history with little glory
BVL: Pepperdine 10, East Carolina 3
BVL: Pepperdine 5, East Carolina 3
BVL: One and done for Pirates
BVL: Cal St.-Northridge 5, East Carolina 3
Bailey: Expect the unexpected from Holland
BVL: Pirates on the rise in polls
BVL: Search countdown begins
BVL: East Carolina 5, Western Carolina 4
BVL: McCarthy steps aside

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?”

E-mail Denny O'Brien

Denny O'Brien Archives

03/15/2010 02:55 AM

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