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Henry's Highlights
Thursday, February 5, 2004

By Henry Hinton
Broadcaster & Owner of Greenville Cable 7

Wholehearted Herrion rejuvenated for the stretch run


AUDIO: Midweek Tip-Off with Henry Hinton, Mike Steele & guests Bill Herrion, Lester Lyons & Bobby Lutz: Select clip...

The groundhog was not the only creature to resurface this week. So did Bill Herrion. The last few years Herrion was hard to find in February. Since East Carolina joined Conference USA he might well be afraid of his own shadow this time of year.

Let me set something straight right out of the gate. This column is going to be an endorsement of the job Herrion has done and is doing at ECU. Let me also admit that Herrion is a friend and I really like the guy.

Covering ECU sports as a member of the Greenville media, it is impossible for me to remain detached from the really good guys that have coached here. Eventually, if not immediately, they become friends.

And we have had some good ones. My relationship with Steve Logan has been well documented. I have been very close to other coaches like Keith LeClair, Eddie Payne and Joe Dooley, to name a few.

It is not uncommon for people to say that being that close to the coaches makes me less objective about the job they do. On the other hand, I have always thought that this has given me a perspective few others get. While friendship can certainly taint one’s point of view, it can also allow an inside view of just how difficult things can be.

Somewhere along the line a lot of Pirate fans — many of them in the younger demographics — woke up and thought that winning games in Greenville was easy. I suspect they don’t have the historical perspective to appreciate that it has taken many years of struggling to become competitive.

Then came Conference USA. While it is obvious that joining this league was the right thing to do, there is no question that it added more intensity to the test in football and immensely raised the bar in basketball.

Football is a different animal, of course. The league as a whole is struggling and perhaps falling apart. One would have to say the jury is out on the entire football situation. We’ll deal with that another day in another column.

Basketball, however, is clearly a challenge at this level for ECU. Fans show little empathy toward a coaching staff or team who does not win… for any reason… in any league.

It is possible, however, to be making progress and having little to show for it in the win-loss column. Perhaps that is why Herrion “bunkers down” this time of year. For most of us, losing a game is pretty unspectacular. For Herrion and his staff, it becomes career survival.

Tuesday night’s 59-57 win over South Florida seemed to spark the Pirate head coach. After losing eight straight games, the victory in Tampa was a badly needed road win for this team and could be the catalyst for a season turnaround.

Unlike many head coaches who downplay the significance of a single victory, Herrion cannot hide his relief at finally winning a conference game on the road.

“I’ve been saying for weeks that we were really close,” says Herrion. “I’m just really happy for the kids.”

Myself, I’m very happy for the coach. One can only wonder where things would be headed without getting that monkey off Herrion’s back.

Herrion and his staff should be commended for the incredible job of keeping this team together in recent weeks under tough circumstances.

“When you start losing, one of the biggest fears you have as a coach is that the losing starts beating you down,” Herrion says. “The kids can start pointing fingers and not showing up at the gym every day practicing hard. That has not been a problem for us.

"I don’t think there is any question about the effort of this basketball team. Every night we have stepped on the floor we have played extremely hard.”

Herrion has earned the respect of his fellow coaches around C-USA as well. Playing in Minges Coliseum has become something that strikes fear in the hearts of opponents.

The Pirates have scored huge upsets in their first two years in the league. So far this season, it has not happened. That is exactly why Charlotte coach Bobby Lutz worries about this Saturday’s match-up between ECU and his 49ers in Greenville.

”Sometimes coaches say things we don’t always mean but I really mean this… I think Bill has done a great job,” Lutz says of Herrion. “Watching tape before we played, I genuinely thought they were better but I was worried for him. Obviously I want to beat him both times, but I know how good the league is.

"Losing Mikulas was a really big loss because that kid could really score. It’s a credit to them that they went down and won at South Florida. They always play incredibly hard and we know it will be a battle.”

And that’s no lip service. In spite of wins on the road at Syracuse and this past Saturday at Cincinnati, Lutz is aware that Saturday night’s game at ECU will be a war.

Teams in C-USA and a few in the Big East, Big 10 and Southeastern Conference have learned in recent years that if you line up against a Bill Herrion team, there will be no quit in the opponent.

It is a shame that the ECU record as we start February will not impress many folks. But the stretch run is upon us. The Pirates still have a legitimate shot at getting into the league tournament at year’s end — where anything can happen.

I, for one, believe that Bill Herrion is doing an amazing job. With a little luck something special could happen with this team, thanks to a guy who works very hard and shows great coaching skills day in and day out.

Congratulations Coach Herrion. You got rid of the monkey and the groundhog all in one week.

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02/23/2007 10:13:12 AM

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