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Dynamics beyond the sidelines

More Than a Game
Saturday, September 11, 2004
By Ron Cherubini
Staff Feature Writer


Pirate leaders getting back to basics

Breaking can't-do mindset of recent times propels ECU forward




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Bonesville Magazine

• PAT DYE: Short on Tenure, Long on Impact

• Recruit Profiles
• Rookie Books
• Tracking the Classes
• Florida Pipeline
• NCHSAA & ECU: Smooth Sailing Again


• 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 grizzly.

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 back window.

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 university system.

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 cheap.

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

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