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Henry's Highlights
Thursday, August 12, 2004

By Henry Hinton

Ballard takes fans to heart in AD pursuit

©2004 Bonesville.net

Replay Henry Hinton's Aug. 2 TALK OF THE TOWN interview with Chancellor Steve Ballard: Select clip

 

Replay Wednesday's TALK OF THE TOWN with Henry Hinton and guest U.S. Rep. Walter Jones: Select clip

 

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• KEITH LECLAIR on ECU's Field of Dreams

• BETH GRANT: Actress Still a Pirate
 

 

 

 

It may be too soon to say new East Carolina Chancellor Steve Ballard’s handling of the vacant Director of Athletics job will be a defining moment. But even Ballard, himself, admits to being surprised at how passionate Pirate fans are about their sports.

When the conversation turned to athletics in a recent interview on Talk of the Town on Talk 1070 and Cable 7 TV in Greenville, Ballard jokingly responded, “I don’t want to talk about that.”

When Ballard was hired in March of this year, the search for a new athletic director was already in full swing. In fact there was some question of which position would be filled first, the AD or the new chancellor.

There were some on the university’s Board of Trustees and search committee who were in favor of bringing in the new athletic director first.

That decision, itself, became a bit of a controversial debate. As such, Ballard was thrust into the process, which included an already narrowed field of candidates.

A sentimental favorite for some — former Pirate Club staffer Jeff Barber and current South Carolina Gamecock Club Director — was pitched to Ballard as one of the frontrunners.

Interim AD Nick Floyd, who has run the department admirably since Mike Hamrick’s departure last year, also had a lot of local support.

Surprisingly, weeks before Ballard even arrived in Greenville, Oklahoma Associate AD Rick Hart, son of former ECU AD Dave Hart, was rumored to have been hired by Ballard.

The new ECU chancellor will not talk about how far that conversation actually got and if Hart had, indeed, been offered the job, but he is quick to point out that after an outcry of concern from ECU fans everywhere that he quickly ended discussions with Hart.

“I think I heard from every citizen of North Carolina… twice,” said Ballard about the Hart affair.

After arriving on the scene in Greenville, however, Ballard, who was clearly uncomfortable with the timetable and the pool of candidates, took charge and slowed the search down.

“There were a lot of people doing a lot of things trying to make the right thing happen,” Ballard said. “(Search Committee) Chairman Steven Showfety was doing a lot things trying to make it work. But in retrospect, it was just a little bit out of sequence.

"If I had it to do over, I would try to get us to the point where we are now, in that we don’t try to have a new chancellor accept something from a process that he had no input into in from the beginning, no input into the criteria and no ability to see what consensus had evolved.”

Ballard’s answer was to screen several consultants and ultimately hire the one he felt would be the best fit for ECU with regard to the search itself. He settled on a famed, respected figure with a wealth of experience in college sports named Chuck Neinas.

Ballard is quick to point out that the hiring of Neinas does not necessarily supersede the work done by the original search committee.

“I’ve talked to every member of that committee and they did a substantial amount of work,” he noted. “But a chancellor had not been named when they started and there were concerns about money in the department. There was a lot of uncertainty and I think that had an affect on the pool that I inherited in late March.”

Ballard thinks the more stable front ECU is now presenting with a chancellor on board will create new candidates who might have seen the Pirate program as too much of a risk before.

“I think it does make a difference when a chancellor is on board and people get a chance to make some calls to find out who this new chancellor is, what does he believe in, does he know anything about athletics, does he believe in quality, is he going to support us if we do the right thing," Ballard said. "Those are questions serious candidates want to know and sometimes they just don’t want their name in the pool until they have the answers to that.”

Ballard says he is already seeing the results of that philosophy.

“I know from personal calls that I’ve received since I came," he said, "that there are some people out there who are waiting to see who the new chancellor was and now they are very interested in ECU.”

As for Rick Hart, Ballard is now willing to admit that his consideration, whatever the level was last spring, was probably a mistake.

“Rick is not a candidate,” said Ballard.

Ballard feels a need to go on to explain more about his involvement with Hart without confirming or denying that Hart had actually been offered the job.

“I did not know Rick Hart," he said. "I had never met Rick Hart until I spent two days on the Oklahoma campus, I think on May 1 and 2. That was the first time I’d ever met him.

“I had never spoken to him even on the phone until about three weeks prior to that, so I had no personal relationship… although I did know about him through the athletic department there and two other people who had worked with him and through other contacts here in North Carolina. But he is not a candidate. I think that is probably appropriate at this stage.”

The question of Floyd’s status is still somewhat up in the air, although Ballard rewarded him with a new contract and a raise recently. That action was as much to put the interim AD at ease about his future in case a new person takes the head chair as it was to thank him for service rendered during a difficult period.

While Ballard says Floyd, who removed his name from consideration in May, is technically no longer a candidate, he says that Floyd's performance has earned him a place at the table regardless of what happens in the search.

“Nick has my complete confidence in the things I have asked him to do,” says Ballard. “I go to bed at night not worrying a bit about the thousands of things like institutional control and student success and whether the right decisions are being made with coaches.

"So Nick is a very, very capable person. East Carolina is lucky to have him. Whether that ends up being in the first or second position is yet to be determined, but I would like Nick to be considered and put his name back in the ring because he has a lot of skills.”

Ballard indicated in the Aug. 2 interview that — with Neinas now on board — a new AD could be identified in the next 60 days. He feels Neinas’ connections will make a huge difference in the search and believes having an announcement in less than two months is feasible.

“I don’t think that’s too aggressive because of the network and reputation that Chuck Neinas has,” Ballard says. “I think he can identify some people that no one else here at ECU could identify. Furthermore, he can do the real due diligence to see if they are the right fit for ECU. That’s a great benefit. He has enough connections to find out the right information about candidates.”

After a somewhat rocky start, the new ECU chancellor now seems comfortable that he has the right process and right assistance in place to make the right call.

“The timing is not as important as the person we get, so if we need more time we’ll take it. But I’m optimistic that this process we’re in now can be fairly short.”

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02/23/2007 10:13:52 AM

 

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