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Sunday, August 12, 2007 "Peering Out of the Basement, East Carolina Revamping Program"

Peering out of the basement
East Carolina revamping program after Stokes
Posted: Friday August 10, 2007 9:30 AM

GREENVILLE, N.C. (AP) -- East Carolina has long languished in the shadows of the Atlantic Coast Conference while trying to fight its way out of the Conference USA basement.

Now the Pirates are trying to change years of feeble tradition by reorganizing a men's basketball program that has lost 44 of 58 games the past two seasons.

"There's no perfect solution to 14-44," athletic director Terry Holland said Thursday. "We can't just turn a switch and make that happen. But we can all work together to make that happen, and I think we're all in position to do that."

Earlier this week, the school said Ricky Stokes would become the associate athletic director for basketball after those two struggle-filled seasons as head coach. Assistant Mack McCarthy _ the former head coach at Chattanooga and Virginia Commonwealth _ will be the acting coach for the 2007-08 season, while assistant coach Chris Ferguson will become acting associate head coach.

The changes came after lengthy discussions between Holland and the coaching staff, beginning in the spring. Holland said he believed the staff deserved the chance to stay on and help the program improve, but that he and Stokes also agreed the pressure to win would be suffocating for the players.

Stokes -- a former player under Holland at Virginia and coach at Virginia Tech -- went 6-24 this past season, with three of those victories coming against Division II teams. It was just the latest chapter in a frustrating history for ECU that includes only two NCAA tournament appearances, the last in 1993.

Stokes will now focus on fundraising and fixing other weaknesses in the program. Chief among them is building a practice facility in the coming years for the men's basketball, women's basketball and volleyball teams so that they don't have to fight for space in Minges Coliseum.

"I just thought it was best for the basketball program for me to go into athletic administration rather than to have the scrutiny and a referendum after each game: whether I'm going to get fired, my record from last year, how many games to win and to lose," Stokes said. "I felt that was too much pressure for the team. I felt it was too much pressure for me and my family. I've been through that before at Virginia Tech. Let me tell just tell you that it's no fun."

Still, that's exactly what awaits McCarthy.

The veteran coach quickly rattled off a list of improvements in the program, from renovations to the locker room and coaches' offices to enhancing the academic support program for the players. The challenge now is improving the won-loss record.

"If we're not playing better in January and February, then we haven't done our job," he said. "We're going to keep getting better and we're going to be demanding of them along the way, more demanding probably than they expect. We will give them all the support we can and we'll be patient with them. But along the way, we are going to get the most out of them."

Holland said McCarthy and the program would be evaluated after the season. And the Pirates would likely either end up negotiating a contract to keep McCarthy as the permanent coach or looking for a replacement.

Holland said every option to improve the program was considered during the meetings except one: his return to coaching after a career in which he led the Cavaliers to two Final Fours in the 1980s.

"Absolutely not," Holland said with a smile. "I've been away from it too long. ... We considered every other option except that particular one."

Copyright 2007 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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