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The Bradsher Beat
Friday, August 10, 2007

By Bethany Bradsher

'Hot seat' changes occupants

By Bethany Bradsher
All rights reserved.

Veteran Mack McCarthy, ECU's associate head coach since 2005-06, was formally introduced Thursday as acting head coach of the Pirates by Athletic Director Terry Holland. McCarthy steps into the job with significant credentials, including over 300 victories and several postseason bids in coaching stints at Chattanooga (1986- 97) and Virginia Commonwealth (1998- 2002. (ECU SID photo)


Bonesville Audio: Terry Holland & Mac McCarthy (Thursday press conference)
Bradsher: Hoops 'hot seat' changes occupants
O'Brien: National search mandatory for ECU
Bailey: Stokes watch over
Myatt: Speculation swirling about Stokes


2003: ECU looks to Stokes for new day in hoops
2003: Ricky Stokes quick facts and timeline
2003 Audio: Ricky Stokes introductory press conference

After months of internal discussions involving ECU AD Terry Holland about the future of ECU's basketball program, Ricky Stokes relinquished the position he has held as head coach of the Pirates since 2005-06. Stokes, whose teams struggled on the court but made important strides in the classroom and in recruiting, will remain involved with the program in the newly created position of Associate Athletic Director for Basketball. (ECU SID photo)


Fresh Audio

ECU AD Terry Holland introduces Mac McCarthy as Acting Head Basketball Coach: Select Clip...

Anyone familiar with Terry Holland and Ricky Stokes can detect a father-son facet to their three-decade friendship. And in the past several months, Stokes has been on the receiving end of some good old parental persuasion.

That much was clear from Thursday’s press conference, which was held at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium to shed some light on the unconventional basketball coaching change that Holland announced early this week.

In a statement about how Stokes decided to step aside as head coach in favor of Mack McCarthy, Holland described many hours of conversation, talks that no doubt brought to bear his strengths as a diplomat and as a respected patriarch of the athletic department.

“After this season, I sat down with the coaching staff, and we had some good heart-to-heart talks to get started,” Holland said. “And the main theme of that is we’ve got one year to get this thing right. So let’s put everything on the table. So let’s continue to talk, and let’s continue to meet, until we can determine the best thing to do to move this program forward.

“And we met, and we met, and we met, individually as well as collectively. And I know they got tired of talking with me, because they wanted to get on with the business of trying to win games next year.”

Consensus was eventually reached behind those closed doors, but Stokes did require some convincing. Even though Holland said the decision “absolutely” came from Stokes, Stokes said later in a teleconference that he was initially reluctant to make the move to athletic administration.

“I wanted to be the coach, but as we continued to talk, the most important thing was what was best for the program,” said Stokes, who compiled a 14-44 record in his two years at the ECU helm. “I wasn’t quite sure it was my decision in the first meeting.”

As compelling as Holland’s vision for the future might have been, it wasn’t the only factor behind Stokes’ position change. Two other highly influential players in the process were Skip Prosser and Sydney Stokes.

When Wake Forest coach Prosser died of a heart attack on July 26 at the age of 56, Stokes did some soul searching about his career path. If anyone has vividly experienced the full weight of head coaching stress without victories to lighten the load, it’s Stokes.

He began to see the long-term benefit – for himself and his family – of a position removed from the white-hot spotlight of public opinion.

And then there’s Sydney, Stokes’s 10-year-old daughter.

“She had two questions for me,” he said. “They were, ‘Would you be home more?’ and ‘Would you see me play soccer more?’ And the answers to those two questions were yes.”

As Stokes sees it, his new position as the associate athletics director for basketball will allow him to be part of the solution – his primary responsibility will be fundraising and support for the men’s and women’s basketball and volleyball programs – while still serving as a mentor to the Pirate players he recruited.

“I recruited these guys; I’m not leaving these guys,” he said. “My office will continue to be open, my home will be open.”

Still, Stokes emphasized that he will not get in the way of McCarthy as he seeks to improve on his 309-177 overall record as a head coach. And Holland said that Stokes’ new position will not include any supervision over the day-to-day operations of the basketball program.

“Simply put, Coach Stokes felt it was a good time for him to make a career change at age 45, and he wanted to focus on the bigger issues of the things we have to deal with to move this program forward,” Holland said. “And there is no bigger issue, and no more long-term issue than a practice facility and for our teams to have access to the practice facility they need.”

For McCarthy, the challenge ahead is deceptively simple – to lead 14 players into a season that will be remembered as the one that pulled the hardwood Pirates up from the mire of mediocrity. He has met with each player, he said, and each one is on board with the coaching change and the intensity that the team’s ascent will require.

“You all should expect this team to have a great attitude,” McCarthy said. “Everybody should expect them to play together and ... to give a great effort. We’re not going to accept anything else, and that’s got to be a given. And we’re going to be demanding of them, we’re going to be more demanding of them.”

One of the reasons Holland and Stokes cited for the change was the desire to avoid each game becoming a referendum on Stokes’ head coaching ability.

For practical purposes, though, Stokes has just moved off the hot seat to make room for McCarthy, who at the age of 52 faces one season of decision: with 30 games to determine whether he’ll become the ECU head coach without a modifier in front of his title or a man in search of a job.

Holland was asked at least twice how a successful ’07-’08 season would be quantified. Has he established a certain win-loss record or recruiting standard that would guarantee a job for Coach Mack come April?

Holland insisted that while the definition of what will be considered a turnaround hasn’t been set out in black and white, the Pirate nation will recognize the new day when it dawns.

“There won’t be any doubt,” he said. “You’ll know – those of you who have been around and watched East Carolina basketball, you’ll know. Are we on the move, or are we not? I don’t think it will even have to come to me making that decision. I think we’ll all make that decision together.”

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08/10/2007 03:42:32 AM

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