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Coach Mack faces must-win season with Pirates

By By BRIAN HAINES, Sports Writer
GREENVILLE — The overcast sky accompanied by the occasional thunder clap set the tone for what would be a rather cloudy press conference Thursday as East Carolina University Athletic Director Terry Holland introduced the Pirates new acting head basketball coach Mack McCarthy, who served as associated head coach last season.
What remains murky is why, roughly six months after the basketball season ended, Ricky Stokes decided to step down from his coaching position after only two years at the helm and into the newly created title of Associate Athletic Director of Basketball.
Both Stokes, who finished his two-year stint with East Carolina with a 14-44 record, and Holland repeatedly cited the importance of avoiding what they speculated would be a game-to-game referendum on Stokes’ job status by the media and fans because they did not want it to affect the team’s performance.
However, while the Pirate fan base may not have been pleased with the Stokes’ winning-percentage and some of his X and O’s strategy, it might have been a rush to judgment by the university to think that the Pirate Nation would come calling for Stokes after only two years on the job. It’s not unreasonable to assume that the fans understood Stokes had an extremely young squad and couldn’t fairly be judged — good or bad — until at least the end of his third season.
Apparently Stokes and Holland both figured the fans and media could not wait.
Stokes, whose new primary responsibility is to raise funds for practice facilities, agreed with Holland’s assessment of the fans and media.
Though they both agreed that the pressure would be too much to overcome, whose decision it was for Stokes not to coach next season wasn’t as crystal clear.
Holland stated with certainty that it was Stokes’ decision to hand over his whistle and clip board, while Stokes’ himself wasn’t as convincing.
When asked during his teleconference if he agreed with Holland that it was his decision to step down, Stokes said all the right things, but was as convincing as a used car salesman trying to sell a Pinto with high mileage.
Another murky aspect of the coaching change is the term “acting” head coach that precedes McCarthy. The reasoning behind Stokes’ decision to step down was to avoid the predicted mob that would call for his head, and alleviate the pressure from the team so that all they would have to do is concentrate on basketball.
But on Thursday, as Holland talked to the press inside Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium the ECU Athletic Director stated that McCarthy must greatly improve the team to earn a contract extension.
That simple? So to take the pressure off the team, ECU has put in place a coach who has to “show considerable progress” to keep his job, which “should give everyone comfort” because there is nothing that eases a team’s mind more than a “win or your coach is fired” philosophy. But it’s nice that Holland doesn’t want to put a referendum on coach McCarthy.
Holland was also just as clear when stating what constitutes considerable progress.
To his credit McCarthy manned up and said it was his job to keep the pressure of his job status to himself and not let it get to the team.
While the circumstances surrounding the coaching change are at best unclear, one thing that seems to be the truth is McCarthy and his abilities. If finding an acting head coach was a must, Holland and the rest of the decision-makers did a nice job in picking McCarthy to steer the ship, even if it’s only for a year.
Most coaches would despise being put in the situation that the new Pirates’ skipper is in, but McCarthy looked genuinely enthusiastic to be there.
McCarthy has coached at Chattanooga and Virginia Commonwealth and has amassed a 309-117 record over 16 years. Chris Ferguson will take McCarthy’s position as assistant coach.