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The Bradsher Beat
Thursday, July 7, 2005

By Bethany Bradsher

Admiral's view on Pirate fleet spans decades


As a rule, all alumni and boosters should feel like they are heard by the administrators of their university, and East Carolina has a history of giving an ear to its most ardent supporters.

Perhaps it’s not right to advocate hearing one voice above the others. But if I were in a position of authority at ECU, I would make a special point of listening to the Admiral, Bill Greene.

Greene, who graduated from the university in 1943 when it was still East Carolina Teacher’s College, has distinguished himself as an athlete, a retired Naval officer and a loyal follower of the school that lured him from Brevard College to play football in 1940. He is also one of only a handful of surviving ECTC players that was part of the only undefeated season in school football history.

The soft-spoken Greene is the kind of man whose integrity comes through without a lot of words. But when it comes to the rocky terrain ECU athletics has traveled over in recent years, he is generous with his opinions.

“I think we went through an era of just failure,” Greene said of the recent upheaval that has given rising Pirate seniors three different head coaches in their ECU careers. “But I feel that we’ve come to another era now.”

As Greene sees it, Steve Logan was the perfect fit for East Carolina, and if he had been given a chance to do his job under a different athletic director after Mike Hamrick’s departure he could have spent his whole career in Greenville. He says that Hamrick made a double mistake in late 2002 — firing Logan and hiring John Thompson to a position for which he wasn’t prepared.

“I’ve always felt that a coach should go where they fit,” he said. “Logan fit us like a glove here. I’ve always said, give a man a horse he can ride. Thompson got on a bigger horse than he was able to ride.”

Similarly, Greene feels that Joe Dooley could have been the right fit for the long term in the Pirates basketball program, but he wasn’t given enough time to succeed. Both Dooley and Logan were strong leaders that could generate success, he said.

So regrettable decisions have paved the recent road at ECU, Greene said. But that’s where the good news comes in. In the chairs once occupied by those who made those questionable decisions are new leaders who seem to be the right men to undue the damage that has been done.

With the arrival of Chancellor Steve Ballard, athletic director Terry Holland and head coaches Skip Holtz and Ricky Stokes, Greene can talk to friends about ECU now without that unsettled feeling that had been plaguing him in recent years.

“I think Terry Holland is going to be the big difference because he is going to be the identity,” he said. “And I think Skip Holtz might be a different story again. He has the enthusiasm, the type of motivation our people need.”

If Greene’s standards for a head football coach seem high, consider the man who recruited him all those decades ago, the man whose guiding hand has remained on Greene and other former players despite the fact that he died just three years after that undefeated season.

Immediately after those 1941 Pirates finished their 7-0 run — surrendering only 20 points all season — the Japanese invaded Pearl Harbor and ECTC athletics took a five-year hiatus as the country went to war. The majority of the players from that squad — and Coach John Christenbury — joined the armed forces during World War II. Only Christenbury, killed in a massive explosion at the Port Chicago, Calif., Naval Ammunition Depot on July 17, 1944, failed to come home.

The man Greene and his players called “Honest John” had such a profound impact on them that they helped convince university administrators to name Christenbury Memorial Gymnasium after him, and several of the ’41 alumni organized a scholarship fund in his name. Christenbury, who was inducted into the ECU Athletic Hall of Fame in 1993, embodied what is good about college athletics because he shaped young men into honorable citizens while still motivating them to victory on the field, Greene said.

“We called him Honest John because boy, he would just not let you play football if you were doing anything crooked,” he said. “He would never scold anybody, but those brown eyes would look at you as if to say, ‘Why did you do that?’ That’s all it took.”

The lessons Greene learned from 'Honest John' and from his experiences at ECTC served him well in his long and illustrious military career, and his achievements were not overlooked by his alma mater. In 1963, a chapter in his life when he was the commander of the flagship of a destroyer squadron, he was named East Carolina's alumnus of the year.

Bill Greene lived some of East Carolina’s glory years up close and personal, and he has been witness to most of the other hills and valleys. He has seen enough coaches and administrators come and go to be cautious in his optimism, but he sees reason for hope now. He even got a new walker so that he can go to the games this season, and he will be there in the handicapped section on September 3, yelling as loud as he can for his Pirates.

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02/23/2007 01:11:30 AM

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