College Sports in the Carolinas
Don't miss Al Myatt's
profile of ECU Chancellor Steven Ballard in the 2004
from the East
February 24, 2005
By Al Myatt
"What you see is what you
GREENVILLE — Bill Herrion isn't a fashion plate. Others may
pace the sideline in expensive suits but he often wears a golf shirt.
He isn't a personality contemplating a
transition to a cushy television analyst's job.
And he realizes he isn't a fundraiser, which
was the life raft offered by East Carolina athletic director Terry Holland
when Herrion was told on Tuesday that he would be
walking the plank as basketball
coach at the conclusion of the season.
"What you see is what you get," Herrion said
simply after a
77-66 home win over Southern Miss on
Wednesday night moved the Pirates to 4-10 in Conference USA. "I'm a
Herrion's focus on getting ECU into the
Conference USA Tournament was shifted abruptly on Tuesday when Holland
conveyed the terms of dismissal.
"It's been a tough couple of days," Herrion
said Wednesday night. "Emotionally, I've been trying to keep things
together. I was concerned if the players would come out and play hard."
Herrion shouldn't have worried about that.
The Pirates went ahead to stay at 52-51 on a
free throw by 6-foot-10 senior Moussa Badiane with 10:49 to play, the start
of a 7-0 run completed by 3-pointers from Japhet McNeil and Tom Hammonds
that gave ECU a working margin down the stretch.
Badiane (13 points, 13 rebounds) and junior
forward Corey Rouse (21 points, 13 rebounds) had double-doubles as the
Pirates won a league game by double figures for the first time since
trimming the Golden Eagles 63-50 on March 6 of last season.
"It's been weird," Badiane said. "Especially
for the guys coming back. But we practiced hard like we usually do and it
paid off. ... We're still playing for something. To hear (about the coach
being removed) the day before a game was not the right time to hear this
ECU is trying to finish in the
top 12 in the league standings of
C-USA's 14 basketball-playing members in order to qualify for the league
tournament March 9-12 in Memphis. The outcome before 4,826 in Williams Arena
at Minges Coliseum on Wednesday night lifted the Pirates into a
tie for 11th — above Tulane (3-10)
and Southern Miss (1-13).
"We've been trying to get around the subject
by focusing on the game," Badiane said. "As a player, we can't control the
situation or do anything about it. ... The season's still going. ... We're
trying to finish strong, get to the conference tournament and make a run.
" ... We know Coach is going through a tough
situation. We all have relationships with him because he recruited all of
us. It must really be tough for him. We want to really play good for him."
Herrion was mystified by the timing of
"It's a disappointing thing," said the Pirates
hoops coach for the last six seasons. "There are three games left in the
season. It's kind of sending a message to the players that the last three
games aren't important."
Herrion tried a business-as-usual approach
with his team during a personally-trying time.
"I didn't say, 'Let's win one for the Gipper,'
or anything like that," he said. "It's still, 'Let's win one for us.' "
The youthful Pirates, who played four true
freshmen a total of 61 minutes against the Golden Eagles, improved to 4-4
over their last eight games. Sophomore Mike Cook scored 19 points and
Hammonds, one of the rookies, added 15.
Until Tuesday, Herrion said the message from
Holland, a successful hoops coach at Davidson and Virginia, had essentially
been "hang in there and keep working."
"We've been doing that," Herrion said. "Right
now we're playing pretty hard and pretty well."
Herrion said he indicated to Holland on
Tuesday that he wasn't geared for fundraising.
"No disrespect for fundraisers but I've never
done anything else (other than coach) in my professional life," he said. "
... I would coach a high school team the way I coach these guys."
Herrion said, "I'm going to leave here with my
head up." He feels he has the program at a point where it can be successful
in a reconfigured C-USA in 2005-06.
Herrion took over a program that struggled in
the Colonial Athletic Association and faced a deficit in terms of resources,
talent and tradition when matched against C-USA powers such as Louisville,
Cincinnati and Marquette. He lost players to academics, injuries and
transfers during an uphill 4-year battle to make ECU competitive in C-USA.
Now that uphill struggle is drawing to a
The students chanted
"Bill, Bill, Bill ..." in the final
minute on Wednesday night and cheered the coach when he returned to the
floor to do his postgame radio segment.
"That felt nice," Herrion said. "I'm not a guy
who's going to leave here with a vendetta. This place has been special for
me and my family for six years. I don't want to leave but it's not my
choice. The fans have been special here. We're so close to turning the
corner and when this program gets there, the roof is going to go off this
Herrion has never had a winning season at ECU
and after a 60-50 loss at South Florida on Saturday night dropped the
Pirates to 8-17 this season, Holland made his move.
"I imagine it wasn't enough wins," Herrion
said. "The kids have played hard, we didn't cheat, the kids haven't been on
the front page and they've graduated. If you meet our kids, they're good
kids. I'm proud of what we've done.
"I don't think any of you have any idea how
difficult coaching is, except for maybe Coach (Randy) Mazey (baseball
coach). We've had some great wins and most nights we've been very
" ... We've taught the kids how to work hard,
how to practice and how to compete. I can look you in the eye and tell you
they'll win games next year. They're going to finally turn the corner as far
as wins and losses. I promise you that's going to happen."
Sense of humor still employed
ECU closes its home schedule against Houston
at 7 p.m. on Saturday. The Cougars are coached by Tom Penders, who used to
coach against Herrion's father, Jim.
"Tom Penders was coaching at Tufts and my dad
was coaching at Worcester Polytechnic Institute in the mid-1970s," Herrion
told the media following the win over Southern Miss. " ... If we added all
of your SAT scores together, none of us could get in there."
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02/23/2007 12:34:02 AM