College Sports in the Carolinas
from the East
Thursday, June 20, 2002
By Al Myatt
ECU Beat Writer for The News & Observer
If a tree falls in 'The Jungle'...
If a tree falls in 'The Jungle'
and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound?
I ask that question because one
of the most telling statements about what Keith LeClair has done for the ECU
baseball program was tucked in the last paragraph in a
university release issued on Wednesday. It
stated that ECU drew an average of 283 fans in LeClairís first season with
the Pirates in 1998. This past season, ECU averaged 1,766 fans per home
LeClair did plenty while he was
baseball coach at ECU and, very importantly, he made people care about the
When attendance increases by
six times what it was in five years, that means a lot. It means athletic
director Mike Hamrick can look upon baseball as a potential revenue
producer. It means the Pirates Club can organize a campaign to raise $6
million to build a larger stadium. It means players, coaches and ECU
supporters can establish a mission of making their way to Omaha, Nebraska
for the College World Series.
LeClair did that for ECU. That
will be his professional legacy.
No longer able to meet the
physical demands of directing the Piratesí day-to-day quest for Omaha,
LeClair officially stepped aside on Wednesday with the announcement that he
had resigned his duties as baseball coach to become a special assistant to
athletics director Mike Hamrick. That was the best possible resolution to
the difficult circumstances created by LeClairís physical limitations
resulting from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, which is also known as ALS or
Lou Gehrigís disease.
His personal legacy will be the
courageous and spiritual manner in which he has fought a fight that doctors
tell us he can not physically win. Speech and mobility have become difficult
for LeClair in recent months and he has not been able to guide the Pirates
program in the active manner that he had since he arrived from Western
Carolina in 1998.
LeClair has done a lot for ECU
and his mind is still sharp. Now his contributions will be in an advisory
capacity. His contract is for $100,000 annually, runs through 2006 and,
admirably, ECU plans to honor it.
ECU is doing the right thing to
make provisions for the 36-year old father of two in a time when the
financial bottom line too often speaks louder than human compassion. Thatís
class or perhaps, just simple human decency.
Hamrick will initiate a
national search immediately for a successor. His track record has been to
hire head coaches with proven success. Coaches who could surface include
Gary Gilmore of Coastal Carolina and Mike Kennedy of Elon, who have each
achieved significantly at their current institutions despite limited
Kennedy had just seven
scholarships this past season ó four below what the NCAA allows ó and yet
the Phoenix took two of three games at defending national champion Miami in
2002. They beat some other nationally-ranked teams as well, including a home
and home split with the Pirates.
Assistant coaches Kevin
McMullan and Tommy Eason, who guided ECU to a 43-20-1 record in LeClairís
limited presence during the 2002 season, may be given the courtesy of
interviews but they donít fit the traditional profile Hamrick has sought.
McMullan told me recently that
his contract as an assistant runs out at the end of this month. He will
surely be glad to have some resolution to what has been an uncertain future
under the circumstances.
A new coach might not retain
all or any of the present staff. If they arenít retained, McMullan and Eason
can begin sending out resumes which include their significant roles in ECUís
four straight NCAA Tournament berths. Hopefully, their work for the ECU
program will be rewarded in terms of career advancement in some manner,
whether they remain at ECU or not.
Hamrick is certainly aware that
a swift hire is desirable under the circumstances. Recruiting has been more
or less on hold because the efforts of the assistants have been directed
elsewhere out of necessity. If possible, Hamrick should use LeClair as an
advisory resource in the hiring process. With what LeClair has done for ECU,
he deserves some input into who will carry on his work.
Iím glad ECU won its first Conference USA
baseball championship in Eastern North Carolina last month where its fans
and its coach could behold the celebration.
remember the Pirates players and staff moving en masse ó after beating
Houston 4-0 on Sunday, May 26, at Grainger Stadium in Kinston ó to the van
near right field where LeClair was watching.
Iíll remember a near-capacity
crowd watching the impromptu theater of the team dousing the vehicle with
the contents of the Gatorade cooler. The gesture could be appreciated for
its humor and creativity on a simple level, although everyone in the park
surely wished and have probably prayed that the stark circumstances
confining the blue vanís occupant could be different.
The Pirates outfought the other
seven teams in the C-USA field to win that title. To a man they said that
was the least they could do for a coach who was fighting for his life.
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02/23/2007 12:58:41 AM