Much of sporting world's consciousness is
on college basketball today as the NCAA Tournament gets underway. East
Carolina athletic director Terry Holland is concerned with hoops, too,
but for different reasons.
Holland is searching for answers about changing a losing pattern at ECU.
The Pirates haven't had a winning season since 1996-97.
Holland has an important decision to
make and it isn't being done hastily. The basketball coaching position
was filled during the 2007-08 season on an interim basis by Mack
McCarthy, who appears to be the frontrunner to get the job on an
If the Pirate Nation had its way,
McCarthy would probably have been awarded a multi-year pact after a
75-69 win over N.C. State on
But Holland hasn't been in a hurry
despite other promising results produced by McCarthy, who also has
experienced success at Tennessee-Chattanooga and Virginia Commonwealth.
McCarthy has a 320-195 record in 17 seasons as a head coach. That
includes five trips to the NCAA Tournament and two berths in the NIT
"We are going to take our time since we
have a solid nucleus coming back and have a guard already committed,"
Holland said. "I want us to talk through everything and make sure we all
are on the same page for how to move forward before making any decision.
"I am very interested in seeing how the
current staff feels about every area of the program, including realistic
expectations for next year."
McCarthy signed former Greenville Rose
guard Raheem Smith in December. Smith, who is 6-foot-2, played this past
season at Louisburg College and wanted to play for a Division I program
in his hometown although there were no guarantees that McCarthy would be
guiding the Pirates.
ECU will be losing three seniors — Cory
Farmer, who averaged 7.6 points per game; overachieving hometown boy
Taylor Gagnon and playmaking machine Darrell Jenkins, who dealt out
assists at a rate of six per game.
The solid nucleus Holland referred to
includes rising senior shooters Sam Hinnant and James Legan as well as
junior post players Gabe Blair and John Fields. Hinnant had 30 points in
wins over the Wolfpack and Houston. Freshmen point guard Brock Young,
center Chad Wynn and perimeter player Jamar Abrams showed potential in
more limited roles.
McCarthy took over a program that had
won just six games and only one Conference USA contest during the
2006-07 season. The Pirates had never beaten an ACC team and had not won
a league road game since 2005. He produced an 11-19 record, the most
wins for the Pirates since the 2003-04 ECU club went 13-14.
The Pirates' 5-11 C-USA mark matched
their best-ever performance in the league although it should be pointed
out that many of the power programs that were in the league when ECU
went 5-11 in league play in 2001-02 and 2003-04 have migrated elsewhere
in terms of conference affiliation.
Still, McCarthy took the cards he was
dealt when Ricky Stokes bowed out as coach and did as much or more than
could be reasonably expected. One of the greatest accomplishments was
getting the team back on track late in the season after a five-game
losing streak from Feb. 9 to Feb. 23.
That losing streak included an 83-49
loss to a Marshall team that the Pirates had beaten in Greenville, a
110-75 blowout defeat at Central Florida and a 91-62 pounding at
Teams with lesser leadership might have
been inclined to throw in the towel and go through the motions in the
short rows of the season but McCarthy managed to get things turned
around with consecutive home wins over Southern Methodist and Houston
before notching a rare Pirate road triumph at Rice.
There has been talk that Holland might
be interested in bringing former Virginia colleague Dave Odom back to
coach the basketball program. Odom guided the Pirates for three seasons
beginning in 1979-80 before leaving to join Holland's staff in
Charlottesville. Odom announced his retirement at South Carolina during
the 2007-08 campaign, effective at the end of the season. It has been
speculated that Odom would coach for a designated period and then step
aside for son Lane Odom to take over.
There have also been scenarios
projected that would bring former UNC-Wilmington coach Brad Brownell,
now at Wright State, back to direct the Pirates.
Holland sought to defuse such
speculation although it should be noted that he has been a cagey
operator in filling previous coaching vacancies.
"I have not talked to any other
candidates," Holland said.
According to reports, the ECU AD has
talked to McCarthy. Presumably those discussions have included many
aspects of building a well-rounded and successful program. Traditional
millstones have been cited in ECU's struggles on the hardwood that range
from proximity to the ACC and its rich hoops heritage to greater
emphasis and interest among the Pirate fan base in football and
The issue Holland is dealing with
involves not only putting a qualified coach in place but one who can
overcome traditional obstacles that have kept the program from competing
with the degree of success that the ECU AD desires.
East Carolina avenged an earlier road
loss when it
hammered Elon 18-3 this week for
the Pirates' 13th straight win. The string of success has lifted ECU
back into the national polls at No. 23, according to Baseball America,
and at No. 26 in the Collegiate Baseball rankings.
The Pirates were ranked at the outset
of the season but dropped out after losing the rubber game of a road
series at then No. 2 South Carolina in extra innings.
ECU coach Billy Godwin is not losing
sleep over where the Pirates are ranked going into the C-USA opener on
Friday against Houston at Clark-LeClair Stadium.
"I can't control the polls so I tend
not to pay them much mind," Godwin said. "Every day my focus is on
making the Pirates better that day. That means attention to detail and
taking care of the little things. If we go out and perform like we're
supposed to, the big things will take care of themselves."
The last 11 of ECU's wins in the
current streak have come at home.
"It's a huge advantage," Godwin said of
playing at Clark-LeClair Stadium. "We're familiar with the surface of
the field. The energy the fans create is terrific. In basketball, they
talk about the crowd being the sixth man and in Seattle (Seahawks
football), they raise that flag for the fans as the 12th man.
"We'd like to raise a 10th-man flag.
The guys get excited about playing there. Being in a routine also is
very important for these young men and being at home allows you to have