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View from the 'ville
Thursday, November 30, 2006

By Al Myatt

It's up to ECU fans to head off Holtz suitors

N.C. State coach quest should follow proven examples and leave headhunting to a pro

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Chuck Neinas' name came up again this week as North Carolina athletic director Dick Baddour introduced Butch Davis as new football coach of the Tar Heels on Monday. Baddour thanked Neinas for his assistance in bringing the former Miami Hurricanes and Cleveland Browns coach to Chapel Hill.

To Baddour's credit, the search that culminated with the hiring of Davis was done with an infinitely higher degree of discretion than the one which left the program with John Bunting in the driver's seat. If you recall, Baddour publicly courted Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer only to be rebuffed after the Hokies boss had further feathered his nest in Blacksburg.

"Hey, Dick, here's your sign," Beamer could have said, a la Jeff Foxworthy.

Given the spectacle of N.C. State's recent venture in hiring a basketball coach, Wolfpack athletic director Lee Fowler might do well to put Neinas on his speed dial as a successor to Chuck Amato is sought. Had that phone call been made after Herb Sendek left for Arizona State, the Pack would have been saved the suspense and agony of missing on high profile types such as John Calipari of Memphis and Rick Barnes of Texas.

The really sharp coaches — Barnes, Beamer, and Calipari among them — have become adept at playing publicity about potential job changes to their advantage.

All the more reason to involve Neinas, who understands the procuring process absolutely. When Neinas is sizing up a job vacancy, he's been known to ask a hiring entity if they are receptive to paying for a house hunting trip for a new coach's wife. He's that thorough.

He's the eharmony in coach compatibility.

He's constantly working his network of contacts to find out who among coaches and athletic directors might be receptive to moves and what it would take in terms of compensation, perks and incentives.

There's a way to hire a coach and there's a way not to. It doesn't help a new coach's acclimation when he comes in as an institution's third or fourth choice. Although Sidney Lowe certainly has State off to a promising start, the example of Matt Doherty reinforces that point.

The UNC-Chapel Hill fan base was baited with Roy Williams and the switch to Doherty never gained total acceptance.

Such fiascos are not in Neinas' modus operandi.

As an experienced and objective third party, Neinas is adept at matching athletic programs with the best fits in terms of hires. He's based in Boulder, CO, and he's the industry standard for headhunting athletic personnel. A former Big Eight commissioner, his contacts are impeccable and he avoids media like cats dis water.

Even in the age of Internet awareness and scrutiny, Neinas works under the radar.

His involvement can eliminate the agendas of search committees such as the one that brought John Thompson to ECU as Steve Logan's replacement.

College athletic programs can figure they're saving money on the front end when they write the check for his finder's fee from what they might be paying on the back end in terms of buying out multi-year coaching contracts.

Neinas' involvement has certainly paid off for East Carolina in terms of the impact of Terry Holland as athletic director. The 21-16 win over N.C. State in Raleigh last Saturday night, a 7-5 football record thus far this season and the pending trip to the "Pizza Bowl" in Birmingham serve as tangible validation of Holland's administration.

ECU had been through a dramatic downturn in its football program, a year of interim leadership in the athletic program and one AD search committee without producing an acceptable AD candidate before Neinas was consulted. From that point, the search moved in a relatively-quick manner with the much-celebrated hire of the former Virginia basketball coach and AD.

It didn't take Holland long to get his people in place. Neither Thompson nor basketball coach Bill Herrion made it through their first season under Holland's evaluation before they were presented with their walking papers.

The decision to hire Skip Holtz was obviously a solid one. The Pirates have gone from 2-9 the season before Holtz arrived, to 5-6 last year, to a winning record this season. Holland hired an experienced head coach who brought in a quality staff and an improvement in competitiveness was apparent from the outset.

Now comes the tricky part — keeping Holtz at an institution which can't provide the resources of a Bowl Championship Series conference affiliation. This situation was anticipated by Holland weeks ago with the organization of a drive to raise funds that would supplement ECU's compensation for deserving coaches.

Holtz is on the low end of the Division I-A spectrum in terms of salary and overall compensation. His package at ECU is worth about $425,000 annually, not including bonuses. The average in Division I-A, according to a study by USA Today published this month, is $950,000.

Holtz is living in the low rent district among college coaches and he's doing a high-dollar job.

Holtz has a young family to consider in terms of his career. If he's anything like his dad, Lou, he won't mind changing jobs if a more rewarding opportunity is presented. The job he's done in two years at ECU certainly puts a gold star on his resume.

The plea for financial support doesn't come at the best time for Pirate fans, many of whom are adjusting their budgets to be in Birmingham. There are Christmas gifts to purchase, too, which enter the financial equation.

Still, Holtz has earned a contract extension and a raise at ECU. His staff should be rewarded as well for the monumental transformation that has taken place. The Pirates were 3-20 in the two years before they came on the scene. They are 12-11 — winners — in the two seasons since then.

One wonders if Neinas hasn't already put out feelers to see how happy Holtz is in Greenville and how receptive he might be to going to a program where his freshly-proven abilities and those of his staff might make more money.

ECU can hardly afford not to make him happy.

It would be a shame for Holland to have to go through the football hiring process as ECU's Division I-A sister institutions in the UNC System have done and are doing. Holland might even have to call Neinas and enlist his assistance in finding a replacement for the winning Skipper of the Pirate Ship if Holtz sees greener grass elsewhere.

That doesn't have to happen if ECU supporters step up financially. Neinas has given the Pirates enough help already.

Send an e-mail message to Al Myatt.

Dig into Al Myatt's Bonesville archives.

02/23/2007 12:30:55 AM


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