Hoist the colors: ECU athletics looks back on track
Hovering around the Top-10 in the college baseball polls have made these heady times in Greenville for East Carolina baseball fans.
While I have yet to catch a game at Clark-LeClair Stadium this season, I do try to follow the Diamond Bucs nightly through the Greenville TV affiliates, and on radio (Thanks Inner Banks Media for providing this service!) as it seems this season every single ECU baseball game comes via the airwaves.
Perhaps a big reason for much of this newfound love for the Purple-&-Gold is because as Pirate fan extraordinaire and Dunn native Al Myatt wrote recently in Bonesville, this is a fan base that is absolutely starved for a winner.
Surely, coming off two 3-9 football seasons, an early season resignation of the veteran basketball coach, and the athletic director walking the plank at the end of last winter have, in Myatt’s words, “left a limp where there used to be a swagger.”
The ‘Arrrrgh’ seems to have become a low moan … at best.
But then along came the baseball season and coach Cliff Godwin’s team racing out the gate to 30 wins and challenging for first place in the American Athletic Conference before being swept by Houston – who’s become a great baseball rival in light of ruining ECU’s hopes of making the NCAA field last season when it came down to the final game on the final day of the AAC Tournament.
While I don’t think fan support was on life support (we’re talking about one of the most vocal fan bases in the country here) there seems to be signs that baseball’s success may be just the beginning of a huge boost that Pirate athletics has been searching for.
Joe Dooley has returned to direct things from the basketball bench – first time, I believe, in college basketball history that a fired coach get’s ‘second-life’ at his previous job. How’s that for producing some excitement in ECU hoop circles!
I was familiar with Dooley during his first incarnation when ECU played in the Colonial Athletic Association against UNC-Wilmington. His teams were always tough, his game-plan well scouted and prepared, and these clubs went 40 minutes all-out.
Now, after a longtime stint as an assistant at the likes of Wyoming and Kansas, and taking Florida Gulf Coast to the NCAA Tournament twice, I think he’s ready to boost the recruiting level in Greenville. Any North Carolina kids that fall through the cracks of Power-5 schools are probably going to end up in Pitt County.
Another good hire, though temporary, is the return of Dave Hart, one-time Pirate A.D. who is back in Greenville in an advisor role to ECU chancellor, Dr. Cecil Staton.
This is one I’d love to see made permanent. Added to Dooley’s resurrection would mean two Purple-&-Gold returns.
Since leaving the University of Tennessee in Knoxville nearly a year ago, Hart has founded his own athletics consulting firm. Much of the leg-work his group did help produce Dooley in Greenville once more.
And, remember, Hart hired football coaches Bill Lewis and Steve Logan. He also helped get ECU athletics much-needed TV exposure, particularly the gridiron program, leading to escaping Independent status as well as the CAA and emerging in Conference USA where they would later win two conference championships under another successful A.D., Terry Holland.
It was Holland who brought in Skip Holtz, son of legendary Lou Holtz, and later former Pirate alum, Ruffin McNeill.
McNeill had early success before things began to plateau, factors that led to his eventual un-coupling from his beloved Pirates.
While McNeill’s departure to Virginia and later Oklahoma, didn’t really signal the beginning of a decline for ECU’s rabid fandom, it certainly cast pallor over athletics that I think they’re now beginning to emerge from.
But, bottom line: it’s early. And while I don’t want to say the Pirate athletic ship is sailing into less turbulent waters, I am encouraged that they have some key pieces (of eight?) in place.
Pieces from the Pirate’s chest I hope can translate into a lot more success.
Gene Motley is a Staff Writer at Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 252-332-7211.