All Rights Reserved.
East Carolina should find
encouragement in the results from Selection Sunday.
The Pirates certainly
didnít find themselves bracketed in the field of 65, but neither did
anyone else in Conference USA aside from Memphis, the South Region's top
That has become the
standard since the exodus of Cincinnati, Louisville, Marquette and
friends to the Big East, and it reinforces an important, yet rarely
discussed notion: ECU resides in a league where it can succeed given the
right coach and resources.
Itís actually a scenario
weíve witnessed during brief periods in the past. Though punch lines are
often attached to ECUís hoops history, there are examples of when the
Pirates were a representative hardwood bunch.
Take the mid-90's. ECU won
17 or more games and finished at least .500 in the Colonial Athletic
Association for three consecutive seasons, highlighted by an 18-11 mark
during the final year of Eddie Payneís tenure.
Joe Dooley followed that
with consecutive 17-win campaigns that built a lot of momentum on the
recruiting trail. But then-athletics director Mike Hamrick impulsively
ended the Dooley era before he had the opportunity to advance the
program with some of his more prized recruits.
It was a program-defining
moment from which East Carolina has yet to recover.
While itís tempting to
insist that the Colonial then hardly measures competitively to C-USA
now, a closer examination of the two suggests otherwise. C-USA may offer
more pronounced logistical challenges, but there isnít an intimidating
program in the bunch outside of Memphis.
Todayís version of UAB and
Houston isnít much different than yesterdayís Old Dominion and James
Madison. And if you think Rice or Southern Methodist would finish much
higher than the cellar in the old CAA, a crash course in hoops history
is highly recommended.
Bottom line: If ECU could
consistently compete in its old conference home, thereís no reason to
believe it couldnít in its current one.
The challenge is finding
the right coach who can draft a winning blueprint, and granting him
enough time to fully implement it.
Just a few days removed
from the seasonís conclusion, itís unclear whether or not AD Terry
Holland has identified interim coach Mack McCarthy as the long-term
solution or if a clean sweep of the program will take place.
If the latter is the case,
there are a couple of routes that seem logical given the Piratesí
current positioning. Either a reputable basketball sage whoís won amid
comparable challenges Ė of which there are many Ė or a hungry assistant
with strong recruiting connections seem like sensible solutions.
Regardless of the choice,
the administration and fan base should provide the next coach with
enough security and monetary resources to mold ECU into a competitive
outfit. Upgrades in both recruiting and facilities are a necessity for
That ECU is completely
outmanned physically against most C-USA opponents is a strong testament
to how shorthanded the Pirates are. The fact that the menís basketball
program must jockey for practice time in Williams Arena is a sad
commentary on the sportís lack of emphasis historically.
But thereís no reason both
deficiencies canít change, and the right coach can help on both fronts.
He can certainly execute a
successful recruiting strategy that will lure skilled, physically tough
post players to address the Piratesí glaring weaknesses down low. He can
also mobilize the fan base to invest in any capital campaign that might
help subsidize a basketball-only practice facility.
Then thereís C-USA. The
right coach can certainly navigate the tame waters that exist throughout
most of this one-bid league and consistently compete in the upper half
Thereís no reason ECUís
administration and fans should expect anything less than that.