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Read Denny O'Brien's feature on Scott Cowen's confrontation with the Bowl Championship Series in Bonesville Magazine.

Pirate Notebook No. 232
Tuesday, March 8, 2005

By Denny O'Brien
Staff Writer and Columnist

No shortage on capable basketball bosses


Far be it for me to draft the candidate pool for East Carolina's next basketball coach. Pirates athletics director Terry Holland is perfectly capable of that.

But that hasn't stopped the rumor mill from churning out a few names that Holland may be targeting.

Among the most highly speculated is a pair of former head coaches — Matt Doherty (North Carolina) and Ricky Stokes (Virginia Tech). Their head coaching experience is a quality Holland reportedly desires, and it would make sense for him to target someone from his old neighborhood.

So far, though, neither rumor has been substantiated. In fact, one source confirmed yesterday that Holland is still gathering information on potential candidates and isn't quite ready to make a hire.

That said, here are five names that Holland should consider putting on his list:

 — Cliff Ellis (Analyst, FSN): The former Clemson and Auburn coach ought to get the first call. He is an experienced head coach, solid recruiter, and vastly underrated for his Xs and Os.

What's more, he knows how to survive in climates similar to ECU. Clemson and Auburn are football cultures that historically have struggled in basketball.

Ellis is one of the few coaches in either Tiger Town to maintain a reasonable amount of success over an extended period of time. He averaged 18 wins during his ten-year stay in Auburn, which arguably is the most difficult job in the Southeastern Conference.

The Tigers' 29-4 mark during the 1998-99 season is tops in Auburn history and earned Ellis national coach-of-the-year honors.

If Holland is searching for a coach who won't use ECU as a stepping stone, Ellis is a perfect fit. Any gig he takes likely would be his last.

His personality and involvement in the Beach Music scene would make him a hit with boosters as well. By almost every measure — hoops success in a pigskin climate, national appeal, and a strong track record as a recruiter and strategist — Ellis would rate a major wow.

 — Steve Robinson (Assistant Coach, North Carolina): Roy Williams' top lieutenant would like to command his own unit again, but only if it is a good fit. From that angle, East Carolina could be a tough sell.

But if anyone can convince a jury, Holland can, and Robinson is worthy of a sales pitch.

Yes, Robinson struggled at Florida State, but that shouldn't be viewed as an indication of his ability as a coach. FSU is one of the toughest jobs nationally thanks to poor facilities and ACC competition.

Prior to his stay in Tallahassee, Robinson was an overwhelming success at Tulsa. He guided the Golden Hurricane to two NCAA tournaments and set the table for much of Bill Self's success when he left.

Statistics aside, though, Robinson is intriguing for a more strategic reason. He is widely recognized as one of the nation's top recruiters, which is an area in which the Pirates could use improvement.

Robinson's experience at Tulsa also is an indication of his ability to identify the type of players the next coach will have to target at ECU.

 — Greg Marshall (Head Coach, Winthrop): Not the most sexy hire, but a solid one nonetheless. As far as coaches from low-major schools are concerned, Marshall sits atop the food chain.

In seven years, Marshall has taken the Eagles dancing five times. That's three more invitations than East Carolina has received in its history for those keeping score.

Even so, the ceiling is much higher at ECU given its budget, fan support, and conference affiliation. Though league reshuffling has greatly depleted Conference USA, it still is a giant step up from the Big South.

And there is only so much Marshall can accomplish in Rock Hill.

Much like Herrion early in his East Carolina tenure, Marshall has had success with overseas recruits. With competition so intense within the States, cultivating an international recruiting presence might be necessary to propel the Pirates a few rungs up the basketball ladder.

 — Jim Larranaga (Head Coach, George Mason): Here is a Holland disciple worth exploring. Larranaga coached under the Pirates AD first at Davidson and then at UVa from 1979-86.

Larranaga proved a good study, leading successful programs at Bowling Green from 1986-97 and George Mason from 97-present. He is touted as a program builder and is no stranger to producing quick turnarounds.

Prior to his arrival at Mason, the Patriots suffered through eight-straight losing seasons. In the seven years since, GMU has been the most consistent winner in the Colonial Athletic Association.

Larranaga's teams historically have fielded a scrambling defense and an efficient offense. The latter is an area in which the Pirates have especially struggled, with low shooting percentages being the norm.

The question is whether or not Larranaga is willing to flee a secure situation at Mason. If so, his age (55) suggests the next move will be his last.

 — Mike Sutton (Head Coach, Tennessee Tech): If East Carolina ties are desired, Sutton might get a call. The former Kentucky aid received his undergraduate degree from ECU in '78.

Sutton cut his teeth under the wings of Tubby Smith, spending one year at Tulsa, two at Georgia, and five at Kentucky before taking over at Tech. In three seasons with the Golden Eagles, he has compiled a 51-38 record.

He just missed making the NCAA Tournament in his first season.

Though Sutton may not have the appeal of some, his experience as Smith's first mate should not be underestimated. Smith is widely considered one of the nation's best tacticians, and is touted for his ability to annually craft his system to fit the talent.

While landing a member of the Pirate family isn't a must, it certainly doesn't hurt. Sutton at least has an up-close understanding of the struggles East Carolina faces.

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02/23/2007 01:59:37 AM

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