By Dave Glenn and staff, ACC Sports Journal
May 5, 2003 GREENVILLE Sometimes silence can speak volumes. At East Carolina, it's fueling speculation that university chancellor Bill Muse may be seeking a new direction in the athletic director's office. Muse met with the Board of Trustees on March 28. According to sources, the performance and future of athletic director Mike Hamrick was discussed at the meeting in great detail. During the closed session, the group collectively decided not to extend Hamrick's contract, which expires in 2005. Following the meeting, Muse offered little more to reporters camped outside the Murphy Center.
I can't really share any details, Muse said. This was a closed session, and the policy of the board provides that that information is confidential. I certainly can confirm that (Hamrick) was discussed. The only thing I can say is that Mike has a contract that runs until 2005, and I can't tell you anything beyond that. There's a contract in place. There's no modification of that contract. Any modification of his contract has to be approved by the board.
The late March roundtable marked the second time in less than four months the board discussed Hamrick's immediate future at East Carolina. In December, there was a motion to remove the eighth-year athletics director, but that ended in a stalemate, with five voting to retain him, five to dismiss and two abstaining.
While it is no secret that a strong faction within the board would like to take a new direction, Muse has been guarded about publicly expressing his stance on Hamrick, offering neither a glowing endorsement nor indication that a change is imminent. Muse does, however, continue to stress that Hamrick remains under constant review, a process that began last summer with an internal audit. That generally doesn't send a positive message about an AD.
Perhaps another telling sign was the process in which former head football coach Steve Logan was fired and John Thompson was hired. Muse served as master of ceremonies in both situations, while Hamrick aided primarily by doing legwork.
We compiled a list of finalists, and from that point a committee authorized by the Board of Trustees began the interviewing process, Muse said in an interview with the Raleigh (N.C.) News & Observer. We talked about the candidates in committee. The committee's role was to interview and evaluate. Mike, (senior associate athletic director) Nick (Floyd) and I sat down, and I had made it clear I would make the final decision.
Though Muse insisted Thompson was a unanimous favorite of the committee, the former Florida defensive coordinator wasn't the candidate Hamrick endorsed from start to finish. According to sources, Hamrick lobbied heavily for N.C. State assistant Doc Holliday causing tension within the interview committee in the process but Muse opted for Thompson, whose enthusiasm, organization, vision and experience as a coordinator ultimately won him the job.
Overall, it has been a turbulent year for Hamrick, whose rocky path has provided the ammunition for those seeking his dismissal.
It all began with the internal audit that reviewed allegations against him for improper management practices, a process that was completed July 9, 2002. Though substantial evidence could not be found to support many of those allegations, ECU auditor Brenda Mills' report pinpointed six concerns, the most serious of which was non-compliance with the Fair Labor Standards Act. Specifically, the equipment manager and his assistant were not compensated properly for overtime hours worked.
Hamrick responded that the issue had been previously assigned to then-senior associate athletic director Henry Van Sant, and that Hamrick assumed it had been handled appropriately. As a result, East Carolina made payments totaling approximately $50,000 to the underpaid employees last October.
Later in July, Hamrick's image took its biggest tumble when he agreed to move East Carolina's home football game with Cincinnati to Friday, Dec. 6, to accommodate Conference USA's television pact with ESPN. That angered many high school coaches and administrators in North Carolina, because Hamrick previously had promised that ECU would not play on Friday nights after a similar controversy in 2001.
How the agreement was reached proved to be one of the primary triggers for a backlash in the media. Hamrick made the call without first notifying Logan, who had a provision in his contract stating that he must be consulted on scheduling issues. NCHSAA executive director Charlie Adams also reportedly was told he would be given a heads-up if the situation occurred again, but he also found out after the deal became public.
Had Hamrick been up front with Logan and Adams, both of whom were vocal about their disapproval in the press, the perception was that much of the critical avalanche could have been avoided. Instead, things snowballed, with several high schools taking retribution against ECU by not allowing the Pirates' football staff on their campuses for recruiting. Board of Trustees member Dan Kinlaw, a long-time supporter of the high schools who serves as chairman of the ECU athletic committee, also didn't approve of the switch and joined the parade of criticism against Hamrick.
With the internal audit reporting that morale within the athletic department was at an all-time low, along with the public relations hit East Carolina took following the Friday night football issue, Muse then turned to former ACC commissioner Gene Corrigan, who received a healthy sum to conduct an evaluation of Hamrick and the department. Corrigan interviewed several staff members, including Logan and basketball coach Bill Herrion, but Muse hasn't disclosed many details from that review.
Throughout the evaluation process, a few supporters within the board have stuck by Hamrick, pointing toward East Carolina's prosperity during his regime.
Since Hamrick has been in Greenville, ECU joined Conference USA and has made significant upgrades to facilities. Most notable are the additions of the upper deck and club level to the north side of Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium, and the Murphy Center, the Pirates' spacious strength and conditioning facility, in the west end zone. There are plans to unveil a new state-of-the-art baseball stadium in 2005, and an Astroturf practice field also is slated for the future.
Additionally, there is the perception that Hamrick has a talent for hiring good coaches. Keith LeClair rebuilt the Pirates' baseball program into a national power before stepping down after last season, because of the effects of Lou Gehrig's disease. Herrion also was considered a good find, and he has notched his share of quality wins over the past two seasons.
A few Hamrick supporters even have gone so far as to devise a plan to rehabilitate his image. An Outer Banks restaurant owner helped fund a lavish party for athletic department staff members and prominent boosters at Hamrick's home in an attempt to smooth relations. Perhaps feeling a sense of urgency, Hamrick also has become more vocal at Pirate Club functions in an attempt to show he can still raise money.
But how much that has helped Hamrick's situation remains to be seen. Muse certainly has had opportunities to give his AD a public vote of confidence, but the chancellor instead seems content to offer vague statements about his future.
Hamrick's public-relations blunders also have taken a toll on fans, many of whom have expressed their concerns to ECU administrators in both private and public forums. One fan began an online petition to remove Hamrick. Another created a website firehamrick.com devoted to his dismissal.
So, if East Carolina is, indeed, not committed to Hamrick for the long term, then why hasn't Muse made a move?
One theory is money. Unless Logan lands another job and, according to sources, he's not actively seeking employment East Carolina must pay him $600,000 over the next three years. Hamrick earns $180,000 annually, so a buyout may not be an option at this time.
Timing is another possibility. Muse could be stalling to give Hamrick time to find another job. If that's the case, obviously, a decision already has been made, and Hamrick is circulating his rÈsumÈ in an attempt to make a jump before he becomes damaged goods.
One date to keep an eye on is June 30, the end of the fiscal year. Rumors and only rumors at this point have begun to float around campus that a move could be made then. If Hamrick asks for two extra months (July and August) to find a landing place for the 2003-04 academic year, he likely will get it. If he's still at ECU in September, of course, he'll probably remain in place through at least next spring.
For the time being, though, Muse isn't talking, which has left a cloud of uncertainty over Hamrick's future at ECU