Dynamics beyond the sidelines
More Than a Game
Saturday, September 11, 2004
By Ron Cherubini
getting back to basics
Breaking can't-do mindset of recent times propels
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• PAT DYE: Short on Tenure, Long on Impact
• INSIDE PIRATE FOOTBALL
• Recruit Profiles
• Rookie Books
• Tracking the Classes
• Florida Pipeline
• NCHSAA & ECU: Smooth Sailing Again
• HIGH HOPES FOR HOOPS
• STEVE BALLARD:
New Leader Takes Charge
• SCOTT COWEN: Busting Down the Door
• KEITH LECLAIR on ECU's Field of Dreams
• BETH GRANT: Actress Still a Pirate
For years, the Pirate Nation held on to that old chip
that was forged in the blood, sweat and tears of a previous generation.
If you’re going to be a bear, went the thinking, well, then be a
But, somewhere along the way, we all forgot a valuable
ingredient that made that chip so noticeable from the Triangle to the
four corners of the country via ESPN. We all forgot that Leo’s
stubbornness and can-do spirit was fortified by a deep-rooted belief
that there was no obstacle too immense to overcome in search of a dream.
He dared to dream, and I fear that we all somehow forgot
that valuable part of the Pirate attitude, rendering us all pretty much
a bunch of babbling “tough guys" talking smack with anyone who would
listen, while our athletics program was shriveling on the vine.
Leo had the knack to focus on the unlikeliest of
possibilities, searching for the loudest naysayers… succeeding if for no
other reason than to rub their over-privileged noses in some of their
own stink. He burned the midnight oil in pursuit of all things East
Carolina, knowing when to kick down the door or when to sneak in the
Old Boy networks were made to be broken in Leo's mind
and he regularly walked into what appeared on the surface to be un-winnable circumstances... only to succeed
— because he was too smart or too naïve to know better.
Yes, we Pirates have not ceased to be vocal in calling
for our just dues, but for some time now, we really haven’t had the beef
to back those demands. In recent years, many of us in the Pirate Nation
scratched our heads in wonderment at decisions being made within the
Why is it, many of us would wonder, that ECU doesn’t
even make the effort to pursue the big-time coach… the big-time athlete…
the big-time athletic director… hell, the big-time anything? Why did we
allow our own warped view of ourselves to fence us in?
... Prep coaches acknowledging ECU didn’t even attempt to
recruit their players because they were “blue chippers” and “wouldn’t
come to ECU anyway.”
... Search committees afraid to pursue the big-time coaches,
instead settling on lesser-knowns with unexciting resumes.
... Athletics department capital projects being done on the
That’s the dangerous thing about having a chip on your
shoulder. In an effort to lash out at those who might hold you down or
stare down their noses at you, you come dangerously close to becoming
the very thing that stirs you to have the chip in the first place. I
believe that in the last several years, we have been over that line… a
victim culture of sorts…angry, with noble aspirations and fierce fight
within us, but lacking the gumption to focus the fight in a manner that
brings about the ends we are all always talking about... lacking the
will to lift that ceiling — a ceiling put in place through legislation,
media influence and hypocrisy by those people who would like us to fail.
Leo clearly wasn't intimidated by the monumental forces
aligned against then-East Carolina College. In a fashion akin to that
recounted in prose about ancient Pirates, he spit in the eyes of those
forces, in the virtual sense.
Oh my, how things can turn…
I was beginning to think that when Dr. Henry VanSant
retired, he took with him the last of that Pirate spirit.
This week, with the hiring of high-profile athletic
director Terry Holland, the leadership at East Carolina, for the first
time in too long, made a statement that should mean more to the Pirate
Nation than anything Holland may eventually accomplish.
In a move that few if any saw coming, Dr. Steven Ballard
– in just weeks on the job – has etched himself in this Pirate’s mind –
among the greats in Pirates athletic lore.
Don’t get me wrong. While I am ecstatic about the
instant credibility and class that Coach Holland brings to the position
of Athletic Director, I am more thrilled with the decision itself. This
hire, may very well be the biggest in ECU’s history, given the dire
circumstances we have faced as a university and an athletics program.
We went after the best and got it. We didn’t settle.
You see, whether Holland succeeds or fails is secondary
to the fact that ECU, in making this hire, has finally rekindled the
type of can-do spirit that so marked the school’s humble athletic
beginnings. In this hire, the Pirate leadership has begun a top-down
alignment that has already, in its infancy, begun to heal the fissure
that has so painfully crippled the the program.
The decision to retain Nick Floyd demonstrates long-term
vision with continuity in mind. Floyd demonstrated the ability to hold
the Pirate ship together in these tumultuous times… imagine him in five
years, after Holland’s mentorship. Those two men are worth every penny…
and they are big pennies for our school.
In this hire, the leadership has signaled that there is
no limit to its desire to be a big-time program. Is it any wonder why
the story is the buzz around all the region's office water coolers — and
all over the Internet message boards of those BCS schools?
This was a moment in time that ECU supporters should
never forget. It is that important.
Hoops coach Bill Herrion must be giggling like a little
boy with the thoughts about what this hire might mean to the basketball
program. The non-revenue coaches must be ecstatic realizing that a man
is coming in who has led a university to a top-10 finish in the Sears
Cup and consistency to boot as Virginia has long been competitive across
the board during Holland’s tenure. And for John Thompson, perhaps an
opportunity to settle down and into his program rather than having to
sweat at night wondering whether his tenure will end before it ever had
a chance to begin.
It has been a long, long time since this Pirate has felt
this good. Hope for the future of the program has been restored. Faith
that the leadership at ECU actually cares about ECU instead of its own
bureaucratic power games has been rekindled.
And, the chip that is so firmly embedded in our program
actually means something again.
I know that Leo has got to be smiling!
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02/23/2007 02:05:46 PM