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Dynamics beyond the sidelines

Bonesville Magazine Teaser No. 1
Sunday, July 27, 2003
By Ron Cherubini
Staff Feature Writer


Pedigreed Pirate betting on ECU's gumption

Henry VanSant shares his thoughts on league affiliation and the BCS.


Dr. Henry VanSant was an
East Carolina student,
football player, coach,
teacher and administrator
during a sustained and
remarkable period of
strategic growth in the
university and in Pirate
athletics. The forthcoming
2003 edition of Bonesville
Magazine includes a
special package of content
showcasing the view from
VanSant's front row seat as
that history unfolded from
the 1950's until now.
Bonesville Magazine will soon be available online and at key retail locations. Get a tiny taste of some of the content that's in store with this pair of truncated samples:
    — TEASER #1
    — TEASER #2

    — TEASER #3

Having been around East Carolina University during a span that touched six decades, Dr. Henry VanSant has seen the football program grow from one in which the team wore hand-me-down gear and practiced by car light to one with state-of-the-art facilities that lists a few former national champions among the teams it has beaten.

But as much as the program has evolved before VanSant’s eyes, the former player, coach, educator and administrator sees ECU in a precarious position as the major conferences shuffle and vie for bigger cuts of the football cash pie.

“We face one of the biggest challenges and that is to make the next step,” VanSant said soon after the Atlantic Coast Conference launched its War of Southern Aggression against the Big East with the intention of capturing northeastern schools Boston College and Syracuse — in addition to Miami.

What unfolded in the weeks after he was interviewed for this story, of course, might qualify VanSant as a sage and a prophet of sorts.

 “There are liabilities for East Carolina," he noted at the time, expounding upon how he felt the ACC should have proceeded from the beginning. "We are not in a big television market. Look how the ACC is not talking about Virginia Tech. That is the team they should be looking at. That is the team with the qualities they say they are seeking. Instead, they want Boston College, simply because they are a tremendous television market. That is our liability.”

In retrospect, with the Hokies belatedly headed to the ACC, the crystal-ball timing of VanSant's view of what he perceived from the get-go as a flawed expansion strategy is enough to make one wonder if ACC commissioner John Swofford secretly retained the elder statesman of Pirate football as a consultant when the wheels starting falling off Plan A.

As for ECU's future, VanSant said that more money will always help and that the program needs to boost the season ticket sales in order to better its position in selling itself to a Bowl Championship Series conference – or whatever the BCS is called after the cartel's current contract expires. But, he also reminds ECU detractors that the Pirates are adept at getting things done on a shoestring budget.

“East Carolina has gotten more for their money than any university has gotten in athletics,” he said, citing first-hand experience. “We can never forget our history and we better not slow up now, because we cannot afford to be left out.”

VanSant points to Pirate passion as the way to compensate for not having the amount of money that many other schools have.

“Look at what (Executive Director) Dennis (Young) has done over at the Pirate Club,” VanSant said. “He is a Pirate through-and-through. He was a tailback on my freshman team. He’s done a terrific job since he’s been there. He does it because he has the strong desire to take ECU to (the next level). We need people with that passion.”

VanSant is cautiously optimistic about the future for the Pirates, but he feels that the opportunity to make its next upward move is staring the school squarely in the face. What happens in the coming year, he says, is of utmost importance and must be handled properly.

“East Carolina is one step away from being a top echelon program and I hope we have people positioning us to make that next step,” VanSant said. “I will say this, there wouldn’t be a doubt in my mind if we still had (former chancellor) Leo Jenkins and that is no reflection on the new chancellor.

"Only time will tell. I do think that the new chancellor (William Muse) is probably a notch above most administrators in that he was a baseball player who played a little professional ball, which is a background that will allow him be more active in the development of athletics.”

On the field, VanSant thinks the coaching staff may be just what ECU needs to augment the looming administrative-level maneuvering with on-field success. But the honeymoon (for first-year head coach John Thompson and staff) will be short, VanSant warns, and that is a good thing.

“I think the newness brings an excitement and enthusiasm,” VanSant said. “How long it will last? Who knows? Expectation levels at East Carolina have risen, and the higher they rise, the more difficult they are to satisfy. We have talked about Leo (Jenkins), Clarence (Stasavich), Pat (Dye)… all of them.

"But more than any of their contributions, the credit and the (obligation) goes to the supporters and alumni. Our people have always risen to the occasion. In the 1980s with those 2-9 and 3-8 seasons, our people supported this program. It is because of them that this program has come a tremendously long way from the time I walked I as a player.”

VanSant knows that as long as the Pirate faithful stick to the modus operandi, the program will find a way to be included, whether by being welcomed in or by beating down the door.

“That chip on the shoulder may be a little overstated, but I hope it never changes,” VanSant said. “East Carolina was built on hard work. We can’t out-spend you, but we’ll always out-work you. I hope that never changes. We need that spirit now.”

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02/23/2007 02:05:43 PM

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