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East Carolina in good hands with Holland

Aaron Beard Associated Press

GREENVILLE, N.C. – Terry Holland figured rejuvenating the struggling East Carolina athletics program would take more than just winning football or basketball games. It was about changing a climate that had grown downright chilly amid a steady downpour of losses.

The Pirates’ new athletics director wasn’t going to wait for things to get worse, even though it meant making tough decisions before he even had found a permanent place to live.

In less than eight months, the former AD and men’s basketball coach at Virginia has replaced the coaches of the football and men’s basketball teams. He also has worked to increase the Pirates’ rabid fan base, an effort befitting a grass-roots political campaign.

Holland’s prescription for the ailing program is clear.

“Nobody’s going to fix it besides ourselves,” Holland said.

“I think if someone took the time to look at my history, I have not been the kind of person that makes major changes, or certainly doesn’t make them quickly. But I have been the kind of person – I would like to think – that has made the changes when they’re necessary.”

Holland, 63, took over the department in October, inheriting a football program that had lost 20 of 23 games in the past two seasons and a men’s basketball program that had seemingly taken permanent residence near the bottom of Conference USA.

For years East Carolina had embraced the role of a chip-on-the-shoulder stepbrother fighting for respect in a state dominated by Atlantic Coast Conference schools Duke, North Carolina, North Carolina State and Wake Forest. But the struggles – particularly in football – were frustrating for Pirates fans who remembered a top-10 ranking and Peach Bowl win in 1991, and an upset of Miami in 1999.

Holland responded with quick changes that put his mark on the programs. By December, John Thompson had resigned after two seasons as football coach and former South Carolina assistant Skip Holtz had taken over.

Three months later, Bill Herrion was out as basketball coach after six seasons without a winning record. He was replaced by Ricky Stokes, the former Virginia Tech coach and a player for Holland at Virginia.

Stokes takes over a program that has been to the NCAA Tournament just twice, most recently in 1993.

“If you make enough tough decisions, you’re eventually going to use up all your capital no matter how much credibility you have,” Holland said. “You don’t like to give that away any time you don’t have to, so you don’t play those cards until maybe you feel like it’s absolutely clear that this is the right thing to do.”

Hiring Holland was a coup for the program, which had gone without a permanent athletics director since Mike Hamrick left for UNLV in August 2003.

Holland coached the Cavaliers from 1974-90 and is the winningest coach in school history with a 326-173 record.

He left coaching to become A.D. at Davidson, his alma mater, where he spent five years before returning to Virginia as A.D. in 1995. He spent six years in that role before stepping down to become a special assistant to the university president and help the university build a new basketball arena.

Holland could have been ready for retirement, but East Carolina’s challenges nearly four years later were just too alluring for someone who likes “solving problems.”

The job certainly gave him plenty, but Craig Littlepage – who succeeded Holland as Virginia’s A.D. in 2001 – said Holland is a creative thinker who can relate to coaches, administrators and athletes.

“I think when he speaks, people tend to listen,” Littlepage said.

Holland has turned that influence toward increasing membership in the Pirate Club, the fund-raising arm of the athletics department.

Dennis Young, executive director of the foundation, said members are responding. Annual fund donations are up 10 percent.

“The enthusiasm was heading in the wrong direction, but Terry has turned that around,” Young said. “People have complete faith and trust in Terry and the decisions he’s making.”

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