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Woody's Ramblings
Friday, February 25, 2005

By Woody Peele

Nothing new under the sun at ECU


For years, East Carolinaís basketball fans have clamored for a winning program, but by and large, itís been more frustration than fortune.

Bill Herrion is the latest victim in a parade of coaches here who have suffered through losing season after losing season.

Itís not that the school has been hiring poor coaches, itís just that ECU basketball has, for one reason or another, not been able to attract enough quality athletes to produce success and sustain it.

Iíve watched ECU basketball for over 40 years, and thereís not a whole lot to brag about.

Quick now, when was the last time the Pirates recorded a 20-victory season?

When I first came to Greenville, East Carolina was in the midst of the 1963-64 season, its last as a member of what is now Division II. The Pirates were in their 32nd season of basketball, 24 of them on the winning side.

The best of those was Howard Porterís 1953-54 team which went 23-2 and advanced to the NAIA National Tournament.

It remains as the only 20-victory season ever posted by a menís basketball team at East Carolina.

In the spring of 1964, East Carolina was accepted for membership in the Southern Conference, officially joining for the 1965-66 season. From then onward, ECU has been considered Division I.

But in the decades that followed, only 12 times did the Pirates boast a winning year. Two of those saw only one more win than losses.

The best span came during the Eddie Payne-Joe Dooley era, when four consecutive winners hit the floor, from 1993-97. The next best came when Tom Quinn was the head coach, posting winning years from 1968-71. Quinnís final year and Dave Pattonís first mark the only other consecutive winning years.

Ironically, the only two NCAA appearances came under Quinn and Payne, and both seasons ended with a losing record.

Since Porterís 23-win season, the best by a Pirate team was a 19-9 mark set by Pattonís first team in 1974-75. That team, which advanced to the old Commissionerís Cup Tournament, had two opportunities for a 20th victory, but missed out on both.

The second best year was an 18-11 mark in 1993-94.

Of the 10 coaches during this 40-year period, only one, Joe Dooley, managed an overall winning record during his time on the job. During his four-year tenure, he posted a 57-52 mark, only to be fired by then athletic director Mike Hamrick.

One has to go all the way back to Earl Smith, who replaced Porter, to find another coach with a winning mark. Smith, in five seasons, was 69-49.

Smith, of course, is better known as one of the winningest baseball coaches in ECU history.

Wendell Carr, the first ECU coach in Division I, resigned after three seasons and later became AD at Campbell; Tom Quinn dodged a bullet in 1972, but two years later, was fired. He went on to have an outstanding career coaching overseas.

Patton, perhaps one of the best-liked coaches, resigned after three seasons, turned off from coaching by the fansí reactions to his players. Larry Gillman lasted only two years before he was fired.

After three years, Dave Odom resigned to take an assistantís post at Virginia, later having great success at Wake Forest and South Carolina.

Both Charlie Harrison and Mike Steele were given the axe and both have remained in the area.

Payne left ECU after four seasons to take the Oregon State job. He was eventually fired there and has coached in the area at smaller schools since then.

Dooley remains a successful assistant coach.

Several of these coaches, including Herrion, came from successful head coaching positions.

But thus far, things havenít gone well with the menís basketball program at East Carolina.

Why? There are several reasons, including that real estate slogan: Location, location, location. Being in the back yard of the Atlantic Coast Conference doesnít help. There have been a number of players who could have logged outstanding careers at East Carolina in the Southern and CAA periods, but opted for the ACC and collected splinters instead.

As ECU moved up in conferences, play reached higher levels. Recruiting has kept pace ó I believe the current team would probably beat all those before it. But it still hasnít had that breakthrough that it needs.

As a result, ECU has finished in the lower divisions of its leagues more often than it has reached the upper.

Now the job of finding another coach falls to Terry Holland. Certainly, the new man will come in with plenty of enthusiasm and fire.

Perhaps, history ó finally ó wonít be repeated.


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02/23/2007 02:43:45 PM

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