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Observations and Punditry

Woody's Ramblings
Saturday, March 13, 2010

By Woody Peele

A history with little glory

By Woody Peele
All rights reserved.

Once again, East Carolina’s basketball program is going to the want ads, seeking a new head coach. It’s going to take a brave soul to take the job unless he is ignorant of the program’s history.

From each era to the next, the Pirates of the hardwood have been one of the school's least successful teams.

Over the years, East Carolina has attracted a number of good coaches, but few have come close to full respectability.

Let’s take a look at the record.

In the spring of 1964, just a few months after I began my career at The Daily Reflector, East Carolina was voted into the Southern Conference. Prior to that, the Pirates had been either non-aligned or in the North State or Carolinas conferences of the NAIA.

East Carolina belonged to no conference from 1932 until 1947 when it joined the North State, remaining in it and its follow-up, the Carolinas Conference, until its move to the Southern.

The fall of 1964 was thus the first for the Pirates in what is now Division I.

That winter, Wendell Carr was in his second of three seasons and guided the program, then a provisional member of the conference, to a 12-10 mark. But following the next season, the school's first as a full member of the Southern, Carr resigned. He compiled a 23-25 in those two years of Division I play.

Since then, the Pirates have gone through 11 more head coaches — and just one of them posted an overall winning record. Ironically, that was Joe Dooley, who, from 1995 through 1999, posted a 57-52 mark and was rewarded by being fired by then athletic director Mike Hamrick, seeking to bring in a coach of his own choice.

Two other coaches left with .500 records. Dave Odom was 40-40 in four seasons and Eddie Payne was 57-57 in five years.

Rare Winners

In those years since 1964, the Pirates have managed only 12 winning seasons, the last coming in 1996-97 under Dooley, 13 years ago.

Of the 12 head coaches, only three managed more than one winning season. Tom Quinn, who led the Pirates for eight seasons, had five, while Payne and Dooley each posted two.

Quinn’s winning campaigns came in 1968-69 (17-11), 1969-70 (16-10), 1971-72 (13-12) and 1973-74 (13-12).

Dave Patton’s 1974-75 team went 19-9 — the best Division I record the Pirates have recorded. Odom went 16-11 in 1978-79 and Mike Steele went 15-14 in 1988-89.

Payne’s 1993-94 and 1994-95 teams went 15-12 and 18-11, respectively. Dooley followed with 17-11 and 17-10 marks the next two seasons.

And what happened to these coaches? Carr resigned and was followed by Quinn, who dodged a bullet after the 1970-71 season when some university leaders wanted him fired. His next team won the Southern Conference tournament and went to the NCAA that year, the first of the program's three post-season appearances.

But following the 1973-74 season, Quinn got the ax and Patton, his assistant, was promoted. That year, Patton led the team to the Commissioners’ Cup Tournament. (In those days, only league champs advanced to the NCAA.) Patton, however, quit after three years and left the coaching profession.

He was followed by Larry Gillman, who also dodged a first-year bullet, but was sent packing after his second year, leaving behind an NCAA probation for the Pirates.

Odom followed and after three years left to accept an assistant’s job at Virginia.

Charlie Harrison was the coach for the next five years, but was fired. The next four years went to Mike Steele, who also was shown the door.

That brought on Payne and his assistant, Dooley, who appeared to have the program headed in the right direction.

Payne's 1992-93 squad, which finished 10-18, earned an NCAA Tournament bid the hard way, winning the Colonial Athletic Association Tournament. A pair of winning seasons followed and Payne left for another head job after the 1994-95 season.

Dooley was promoted — only to be axed after four seasons.

Next up was Bill Herrion, who held the reigns for six seasons before he, too, was fired. Ricky Stokes was in the head man’s office for less than two years before he was added to the list of those pushed out.

Mack McCarthy, Stokes’ assistant, took over in midseason and was named head coach after that, serving for two full seasons before “resigning.”

All in all, it hasn’t been a pretty picture.

For sure, the next head coach must be an outstanding recruiter if he is to have success. Being located in the heart of the ACC is just one recruiting problem.

Over the years, there have been a number of players who were courted by East Carolina, only to see them head for the ACC. Most could have been outstanding players in the conferences in which the Pirates played, but instead most of them spent time riding the pine.

Basically, East Carolina has had to recruit those players skipped by the bullies down the street, hoping they would blossom as did David Robinson at Navy, or even Cornbread Maxwell, who was heavily recruited by the Pirates prior to his run to Charlotte.

The Pirates have had some good players, but never the great ones. For the program to succeed in recruiting, it must widen its nets, scouring the entire country for the type players the new staff will want. It’s unlikely that enough top recruits to compete in Conference USA will be signed from this area.

And if East Carolina ever does want to get into the Big East, the basketball program will have to explode upon the scene. If things are tough in the current conference, just how bad would they be in the Big East?

Opening that door is not the key to success. Getting in the Big East is not going to be a magic elixir to produce an outstanding program. It’s got to be built now.

E-mail Woody Peele.

Woody Peele Archives

03/15/2010 02:43 AM

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