Holland begins search for new hoops’ coach|Lack of progress haunted McCarthy

Published 3:20 am Sunday, March 7, 2010

Sports Writer

GREENVILLE – The Pirates basketball team may have been a step behind all season, but athletic director Terry Holland made sure he was a step ahead when it came time to make a decision on Mack McCarthy’s status as the mens’ head coach.
Looking cut off of media and fan speculation before it could build momentum, Holland and McCarthy agreed that the third-year coach would announce his resignation immediately following the Pirates 75-65 loss to Southern Miss in their regular season finale on Saturday.
McCarthy, 57, spent two years as an assistant at ECU under Ricky Stokes before taking over the head coaching position and amassed a 34-56 record in his three seasons as the ECU skipper. For his career, McCarthy’s lifetime record stands at 342-233.
McCarthy will remain at East Carolina but his services will be geared towards raising funds for a new practice facility which is expected to be built within the next two years.
“As we continued to talk about (McCarthy’s future) we had to bring more and more people into the circle, which meant that sooner or later it would get out,” Holland said. “So it seemed better to go ahead rather than have people find out about it piece meal. … I would say Thursday of last week (is when we made the decision). That’s when we sort of said ‘look we have been talking about this a long time and sooner or later people are going to comment on it and have their own opinions so let’s go ahead and consummate it.’”
The Pirates finished the regular season in 10th place in the Conference USA standings with a 10-20 (4-12 record) and will face Houston in the first round of the conference tournament on March 10.
McCarthy took over the program in the 2007-08 season after the embattled Stokes resigned from the position and guided the team to an 11-19 overall record and year 5-11 Conference USA record.
The five C-USA wins was the most in ECU history. That same season McCarthy’s team topped N.C. State 75-69 to give the Pirates their first-ever win over an ACC team in the school’s history.
That win created some excitement and generated hope that the end to the long history of struggles surrounding the mens’ hoops program might be near an end.
East Carolina failed to build on that success the next season. Despite winning two more non-conference games, ECU finished its conference slate at 5-11 again.
This season’s 4-11 C-USA record was the final straw for McCarthy, with back-to-back home losses to Rice and UCF serving as this season’s low-lights.
On Thursday, Holland said he had made it official that McCarthy would no longer be the team’s coach.
“Our program has made piece meal progress, but it’s hard to put those pieces together. You just sort of run out of steam,” Holland said. “His first year winning ‘Game X and Game Y’ was really big, as you go on the expectations obviously increase. I think our biggest problem is that we have not had a lot of success translate into beating good teams in our conference.
“We have had the criteria, and this is true of any coach, to do what you need to do to get better in the pre-conference. But the conference teams are going to be the same every year … We should get better from November to December regardless of who we are playing.”
Holland’s desired qualities for the new basketball coach are the same ones he looked for during the hiring process of the school’s football coach. During the search for Skip Holtz’s replacement Holland stated a preference for an established head coach with ties to the area.
The biggest difference in the latest hiring of a football coach and the current search for a hoops’ skipper is that this time ECU is ahead of the timetable instead of behind it.
“We can’t go out and talk to head coaches (yet) but we can go out an talk to assistants if they are not to busy this time of the year with tournaments,” Holland said. “We can also begin to assess the interest of head coaches that we would be interested in might be when that time comes.”
Holland said he has no one specifically in mind yet, but did say he has approximately six people on his primary candidate list, with another six or so prospects in line behind them.
The early hot name speculated to be on that list is Kansas assistant coach Joe Dooley. Dooley was the ECU coach from the 1995-96 season through the 1998-99 campaign and was the last coach to guide the Pirates to a winning season when his team went 17-10 (9-7) as members of the Colonial Athletic Conference in the 1996-97 season. Dooley has been with the Jayhawks for seven seasons and is touted for his recruiting ability.
Holland has not set a timetable for a hire, but said it will likely not take place before the end of the NCAA tournament.