East Carolina has batted 1.000 in some
crucial personnel retention situations in recent weeks and that has some
very positive implications for the future of Pirate athletics –
The latest to decide that the grass
wasn't necessarily greener outside of Greenville was Dr. Steve Ballard,
Ballard interviewed at Kansas State for
the president's position and toured the campus in Manhattan earlier this
week before deciding that he wouldn't be a great fit at the Big 12
The Wichita Business Journal
reported Thursday that Ballard,
one of three finalists, had withdrawn from consideration for the top
spot at K-State.
"The simplest reason is that Kansas
State just didn't feel as good to me as ECU does," Ballard said in a
statement released through ECU. "You always learn something interviewing
for competitive positions, and this one reminded me what a great place
ECU is and how much I like working with the people here."
That's pretty strong for a guy who
spent 13 years in an academic setting in the Midwest as a member of the
faculty at Oklahoma. Ballard has been chancellor at ECU since May of
From all indications, Ballard has a
good working relationship with ECU athletic director Terry Holland,
whom Ballard hired within months of his arrival
in Greenville. Ballard was wise to listen to counsel when his initial
choice for AD was relatively-inexperienced Rick Hart, son of former
Pirate AD Dave Hart.
The younger Hart was involved in
athletic merchandising at Oklahoma at that time.
Ballard's background distinguishes him
from many high level education administrators. Ballard was shortstop and
captain of the baseball team at Arizona, earning three varsity letters
and helping his team to the College World Series as a senior.
Ballard's competitive experience brings
a rare perspective to the lofty and powerful position that is the
Maybe it doesn't take a genius with an
advanced degree to realize it's better to be an hour from the coast than
make a move to land-locked Manhattan, which was expecting a low of 20
degrees last night.
ECU is the fastest growing university
in the state with an enrollment of 25,990 and there are many intriguing
initiatives in progress to challenge the chancellor, particularly in the
fields of education and health care.
Once viewed as a stepping stone to
bigger and better things, Ballard seems to be part of a growing number
who have realized that there is plenty of room for professional growth
without leaving East Carolina University.
That seemed to be the conclusion that
football coach Slip Holtz reached last month despite reports of a
multi-million dollar, 5-year offer from Syracuse, a program with plenty
of tradition as well as the allure of membership in a BCS conference.
rebuffed the Orangemen before
beginning preparations with the Pirates for the Liberty Bowl as
champions of Conference USA.
"While it is always flattering for
others to have an interest in your abilities, I simply am too focused on
our preparations for the bowl game and many other of our short and
long-term goals to fairly evaluate what I feel is a promising situation
at Syracuse," Holtz said in a statement released through the media
relations office. "I appreciate Syracuse's interest but that certainly
is a direct reflection on what our players, coaches and the Pirate
Nation have been able to accomplish, especially through a season that
featured so much adversity."
To hear Holtz talk about fulfilling
long-range goals was like salve for those who were agonizing over his
possible departure. The fallout was minimal as one tight end who had
given a verbal commitment to the Pirates decided to change his choice in
favor of Boston College.
When the BC job opened up earlier this
month, Holtz quickly put to rest any rumors that he might jump the
Pirate ship to become Jeff Jagodzinski's successor.
"The continuing speculation and various
media reports regarding my candidacy for positions other than the one I
currently have and enjoy at East Carolina, are inaccurate," Holtz said.
"As I have previously stated, I am not
seeking another position and am not involved in any discussions that
would promote or verify such conjecture. On the other hand, I view this
apparent media-based interest as another positive reflection on what our
players, coaches, administration and the Pirate Nation have been able to
accomplish over the last few seasons. I couldn't be more proud of how
hard they played and what they accomplished on the field.
"While some aspects of this added
visibility might be considered flattering, my primary focus remains
solely on continuing to build our program. In the short term, that
centers around recruiting."
It's one thing to talk about loyalty to
an institution. It's another thing to show it when other schools are
attempting to woo prominent personnel away.
Holtz's coordinators, Todd Fitch and
Greg Hudson, explored some possibilities with some BCS programs, but
Fitch is apparently set to return and direct the offense while Hudson
will once again lend his expertise to the defense.
You can't place a value on continuity.
Ask former Pirates such as ex-quarterback James Pinkney what it's like
to have a new offensive coordinator every spring.
The return of starting quarterback
Patrick Pinkney for a sixth season of eligibility was uplifting news
from the NCAA for the ECU fan base just last week.
"I consider myself very blessed with
the opportunity to enjoy another year with my teammates and coaches, and
play one more season at East Carolina," Pinkney said. "To be a part of
this program's first conference championship in many years last season
was rewarding and I'm looking forward to being in a position to help
contribute to a new set of goals in 2009.
"Obviously, ECU is a special place for
me and my family, and I'm thankful for the NCAA's decision to allow me
to get one year back."
The Pirates could conceivably have been
looking at a future without Dr. Ballard, without Coach Holtz, without
coordinators Fitch and Hudson, and without Patrick Pinkney.
Instead of a series of potential
transitions, each of which would have entailed its own adjustment period
and repercussions, the Pirates have achieved an unprecedented state of
solidarity. Very little is changing in terms of leadership personnel and
that bodes well.