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Dynamics beyond the sidelines

More Than a Game
Thursday, May 5, 2005
By Ron Cherubini


Holland’s transparency just what ECU needs


Terry Holland, right, has been extraordinarily candid in his dealings with individual fans and with East Carolina's fan base as a group since taking over as AD last September. (Photo: ECU Media Relations)

On my "day job," sometimes I work with clients on planning, executing or — more times than not — cleaning up after an M&A. That’s as in, Mergers & Acquisitions.

If you work through enough of these things, you quickly realize that half the battle on the ground is gaining the trust of the people who come to work every day at the newly joined companies.

Without exception, you will find a whole lot of fear and distrust, and that fear and distrust is usually focused on management. That focused fear and anger begets a whole lot of resistance with an unhealthy dose of paranoia.

The net result is a workforce that not only distrusts management, it will find a problem everywhere. All of a sudden, the coffee machine is the worst, the bathrooms are not located in the right place, the parking is inadequate… anything and everything becomes a negative.

In my experience, the biggest success card the new management team can play is the transparency card. It is a painful option, on the human level, but for those people who stay with the new company, it is the most powerful mechanism the new management team can have.

Terry Holland, if nothing else, has been transparent.

I’ve been scratching my head trying to figure out how I feel about these open letters that he periodically puts out to the fan base via the SID. Initially, my gut reaction was to say, “What is he doing pandering to individual e-mailers?”

But then, given more time to think about it, it dawned on me that more than anything else the Pirate fan base needs some good ole fashion honesty. Transparency like this hasn’t been seen in years from an executive of Holland’s stature.


Here are links to two of Terry Holland's 'Open Letters' posted on ECU's official athletics Web site:

When history has shown member after member of the collegiate football have-nots moving over to the haves and quickly washing off all residue of loyalty to their former colleagues in poverty (see John L. Smith, Mike Slive, and even our beloved former SID Charles Bloom, who helped sell the BCS for Roy Kramer), Holland is a guy who came from the promised land to the Siberia of college football.

Why would Holland do that if not for the purist of reasons? Certainly, he didn’t need the money or the aggravation. I find it very hard to believe that he is an ACC "plant" set on finally destroying the East Carolina program. Jeepers, Scooby, maybe he saw an opportunity to really make an impact on a community committed to breaking through externally imposed limitations. Whatever the reason, I am convinced that it is pure.

After the Mike Hamrick years, a period when what you saw was never what you got, it is refreshing to see a guy who certainly is not afraid to lift the covers and show you what’s going on within the athletic department. Holland has been so above board that sometimes he creates the appearance of being drawn into the minutiae, begging the question: “If the captain is over there worrying about what flower arrangements are on the mid-level deck, who’s driving the ship?”

I don’t see it that way, however. The need for trust is greater than that right now at ECU. If Holland wants the Pirate emotional default to be set on “In Holland we trust,” then he knows he has to build that trust — pronto! For Holland the Honeymoon ended before he even signed on board.

I see an administration that understands just how broken the system was and, in an attempt at corrective action, is ensuring that pendulum swings well the other way. Prior to his arrival, the fan base was clearly divided on everything from coaching comparisons down to which way the baseball stadium should be oriented.

Consider that Holland was completely straightforward in regards to the football coaching situation. Decisions on both the football and basketball coaching positions were clearly articulated to the public. Yet, Holland appears to have a good feel for what should be held back from the public, in the interest of success of the ultimate mission, as was the case in the hiring of Ricky Stokes, where a press conference was held seemingly stating that the search would take some time and then almost immediately our new coach was announced.

Holland’s transparency isn’t just helping the Pirates' fanbase heal, it’s also been strategic. On both occasions — the hiring of the football and basketball coaches — Holland’s decision to be very public coupled with astute timing proved to be a media boon for ECU’s program. In both instances, ECU grabbed recurring positive mention all over the television sports networks as well as throughout the newspapers (even within North Carolina… wink-wink). That type of free, positive promotion is priceless for an institution that does not want to be seen as a geographically limited entity.

Given the past several years and the number of times things that have been done behind closed doors at ECU and the embarrassment that followed many of those decisions, the transparency that Holland gives is certainly a welcome change.

It is no secret either, it seems, that while the Open Letters tend to appear focused on responding to misconceptions within the Pirate community, the real intent of these communiqués is to convey the critical needs that the department has. The message I get from Holland is that our foundation is hugely deficient, that our poor competitive performances in football and basketball are hindering any hopes we have of being invited to the upper echelon of collegiate sports — that we need help from the folks in the ACC and the Big East (like or not) and that there is unprecedented effort going on within the department to correct what problems can be corrected internally.

The message, no doubt, matches the one that he and his staff are preaching on the stump. And, if the Pirate partisans takes these messages to heart and stay on point, good things are sure to follow. I suspect that over time, as the things that Holland and his staff are talking about take shape and come to fruition, our AD will be less transparent. But, for now, he is an open book. And I appreciate it given how bad leadership has been in the past.

For me, this openness has made each small defeat less painful and has instilled more hope than I've had in a long time. It is nice to know that we have a leader with the guts to be that open.

I know I don’t see it as often as I would like… on my day job.

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02/23/2007 02:05:52 PM

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