Observations and Punditry
February 25, 2005
By Woody Peele
Nothing new under the sun at
For years, East Carolinaís basketball fans
have clamored for a winning program, but by and large, itís been more
frustration than fortune.
Bill Herrion is the latest victim in a parade
of coaches here who have suffered through losing season after losing season.
Itís not that the school has been hiring poor
coaches, itís just that ECU basketball has, for one reason or another, not
been able to attract enough quality athletes to produce success and sustain
Iíve watched ECU basketball for over 40 years,
and thereís not a whole lot to brag about.
Quick now, when was the last time the Pirates
recorded a 20-victory season?
When I first came to Greenville, East Carolina
was in the midst of the 1963-64 season, its last as a member of what is now
Division II. The Pirates were in their 32nd season of basketball, 24 of them
on the winning side.
The best of those was Howard Porterís 1953-54
team which went 23-2 and advanced to the NAIA National Tournament.
It remains as the only 20-victory season ever
posted by a menís basketball team at East Carolina.
In the spring of 1964, East Carolina was
accepted for membership in the Southern Conference, officially joining for
the 1965-66 season. From then onward, ECU has been considered Division I.
But in the decades that followed, only 12
times did the Pirates boast a winning year. Two of those saw only one more
win than losses.
The best span came during the Eddie Payne-Joe
Dooley era, when four consecutive winners hit the floor, from 1993-97. The
next best came when Tom Quinn was the head coach, posting winning years from
1968-71. Quinnís final year and Dave Pattonís first mark the only other
consecutive winning years.
Ironically, the only two NCAA appearances came
under Quinn and Payne, and both seasons ended with a losing record.
Since Porterís 23-win season, the best by a
Pirate team was a 19-9 mark set by Pattonís first team in 1974-75. That
team, which advanced to the old Commissionerís Cup Tournament, had two
opportunities for a 20th victory, but missed out on both.
The second best year was an 18-11 mark in
Of the 10 coaches during this 40-year period,
only one, Joe Dooley, managed an overall winning record during his time on
the job. During his four-year tenure, he posted a 57-52 mark, only to be
fired by then athletic director Mike Hamrick.
One has to go all the way back to Earl Smith,
who replaced Porter, to find another coach with a winning mark. Smith, in
five seasons, was 69-49.
Smith, of course, is better known as one of
the winningest baseball coaches in ECU history.
Wendell Carr, the first ECU coach in Division
I, resigned after three seasons and later became AD at Campbell; Tom Quinn
dodged a bullet in 1972, but two years later, was fired. He went on to have
an outstanding career coaching overseas.
Patton, perhaps one of the best-liked coaches,
resigned after three seasons, turned off from coaching by the fansí
reactions to his players. Larry Gillman lasted only two years before he was
After three years, Dave Odom resigned to take
an assistantís post at Virginia, later having great success at Wake Forest
and South Carolina.
Both Charlie Harrison and Mike Steele were
given the axe and both have remained in the area.
Payne left ECU after four seasons to take the
Oregon State job. He was eventually fired there and has coached in the area
at smaller schools since then.
Dooley remains a successful assistant coach.
Several of these coaches, including Herrion,
came from successful head coaching positions.
But thus far, things havenít gone well with
the menís basketball program at East Carolina.
Why? There are several reasons, including that
real estate slogan: Location, location, location. Being in the back yard of
the Atlantic Coast Conference doesnít help. There have been a number of
players who could have logged outstanding careers at East Carolina in the
Southern and CAA periods, but opted for the ACC and collected splinters
As ECU moved up in conferences, play reached
higher levels. Recruiting has kept pace ó I believe the current team would
probably beat all those before it. But it still hasnít had that breakthrough
that it needs.
As a result, ECU has finished in the lower
divisions of its leagues more often than it has reached the upper.
Now the job of finding another coach falls to
Terry Holland. Certainly, the new man will come in with plenty of enthusiasm
Perhaps, history ó finally ó wonít be
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