September 30, 2002 GREENVILLE — East Carolina athletic director Mike Hamrick stirred up a hornets nest when he agreed to reschedule a football game with Cincinnati from Saturday Nov. 2 to Friday night Dec. 6, with much of the resultant furor emanating from the Pirates’ own football office.
ECU coach Steve Logan has a provision in his contract that he is to be consulted on scheduling matters, but Logan wasn’t informed until a media relations department employee brought him a copy of the release the same afternoon (July 24) the announcement went public. Logan had been in Memphis earlier in the week for the Conference USA football media gathering.
Logan’s immediate reaction was that the date change conflicted with a big recruiting effort on campus and that Hamrick had violated a flat policy against Friday night games that the AD himself had announced just last year. The Pirates, who as a non-BCS conference program always are fighting an uphill battle to land the best prospects, recently have utilized the first weekend in December as a major recruiting push for their most sought-after targets.
The ECU coach reportedly left a vapor trail en route to confront Hamrick, and the loud exchange that supposedly ensued went something like this:
Hamrick: “I didn’t know about the recruiting weekend.”
Logan: “You would have if you had called me.”
Hamrick: “But you were in Memphis.”
Logan: “You think they don’t have phones in Memphis?”
The incident was just one in a long series that left the coach feeling unsupported by an athletic director who didn’t hire him. Earlier in his seven-year tenure, Hamrick terminated long-time baseball coach Gary Overton and men’s basketball coach Joe Dooley despite relatively solid degrees of success. According to some ECU insiders, Logan has thought for some time that Hamrick wouldn’t mind getting rid of him, too.
Logan’s suspicions and/or paranoia always have been comforted by the fact that as long as he’s winning he has job security. He has more wins and longer tenure than any football coach in ECU history, but an 0-2 start this season — with the losses to modern ACC bottom-feeders Duke and Wake Forest — may have fueled his fear of Hamrick’s axe.
The unknown quantity in the whole Hamrick/Logan dynamic is chancellor William Muse, who arrived from Auburn in August 2001. Neither Hamrick nor Logan got a contract extension in January, a situation that caused Logan to abruptly leave the chancellor’s office when he was informed. He reportedly asked for the buyout clause in his contract to be removed. When that request was denied, he stormed out.
One athletic department official recently speculated that the rift between Hamrick and Logan could some day cost both men their jobs. Muse has the ultimate authority in the employment of both, and he has yet to define himself as being on either side of the fence. The previous chancellor, Richard Eakin, was widely characterized as a Hamrick backer. Muse has put three of his own people in vice chancellor positions, and more house-cleaning may be in store.
Another former athletic department official said the relationship with Hamrick became strained when Logan hired an agent to renegotiate his contract at the conclusion of a 9-3 season in 1999. Attorney Craig Kelly of Columbia, S.C., got Logan’s total compensation boosted from roughly $180,000 in 1999 to its present level of more than $500,000, an amount that doesn’t include bonuses.
Hamrick expects a return for the increased investment in the coach’s compensation, and last year’s 6-6 record fell well short. It wasn’t just the fact that the team finished .500. Hamrick and many ECU boosters were rankled by the manner in which the team lost, and by the intense coach’s often-prickly relationship with fans and media members.
The Pirates seemingly never recovered from a season-opening 21-19 loss to Wake Forest, the first ACC team to come into Greenville and win. An onside kick backfired after the Pirates had taken a fourth-quarter lead at Syracuse. They couldn’t get a break in a 24-21 loss at UNC. They dropped their last three games, against Louisville, Southern Miss and Marshall, after taking substantial leads in all three. The losses to Southern Miss and Louisville knocked the Pirates out of Conference USA championship contention. The disappointing season ended in the GMAC Bowl with the infamous 64-61 double overtime loss to Marshall, Hamrick’s alma mater, as the Pirates failed to protect a 38-8 halftime lead.
Perhaps Logan thinks his own precarious job security will be resolved with Hamrick’s dismissal, which is one reason some believe he made a big issue of the schedule conflict with the high school playoffs. Long-time Logan friend Harold Robinson, who coaches at Williamston (N.C.) High and has sent several players to ECU, went public with his desire to ban the school’s coaches from recruiting on his campus. Robinson ultimately was over-ruled by his county superintendent, who stated that the coach lacked that authority to enforce such declarations, but the point had been made.
“Steve Logan had nothing to do with this,” Robinson said. “This is about East Carolina administrators making a decision that is a slap in the face of high school football in this state. We’re not going to help anyone who goes back on their word and does things that threaten high school football in this state.”
“High school football coaches and athletic directors know that this has nothing to do with Steve Logan,” Logan said. “They know that I support high school football in this state as much as anyone. We have more North Carolina players on our roster than anybody in this state. I had absolutely nothing to do with this decision.”
Coaches at Southern Durham (David Garrard’s alma mater) and High Point Central have maintained their bans of ECU coaches on campus, although they said the Pirates still may recruit their players. The South Carolina football coaches association recently moved for sanctions against all programs playing on Friday nights. Clearly, this is not a minor issue in the eyes of high school coaches and administrators.
“In all my years here,” North Carolina High School Athletic Association executive director Charlie Adams said, “I’ve never seen our membership as upset with East Carolina as they are now. Ö They tell us they had no choice, but we know better.”
A recent audit of the athletic department, apparently instigated by Danny Kinlaw, chair of the athletic committee of the board of trustees and one of Hamrick’s most outspoken critics, turned up no sign of mismanagement in the athletic department. There were some who thought the audit might move Hamrick toward the exit door, but that clearly turned out to be a false expectation.
Hamrick’s lack of communication with vital parties became the issue at a meeting of Kinlaw’s committee in September. In a proposed resolution that the full board will act on in October, it was stated that the athletic director should contact the head football coach, the chancellor, the athletic committee of the board of trustees and the NCHSAA if confronted with moving another game to Friday night. The proposed resolution appeared to soften the hard feelings of the high school association toward ECU.
“The athletics committee of the East Carolina University Board of Trustees, with its proposal relative to future football games on Friday night, appears to have made a step in the right direction,” Adams said. “We are only going on reports we’ve seen in the newspaper, since we have received no official word on the proposal yet. However, we will wait until the resolution is presented to the full Board of Trustees in October before we comment any further, since it is certainly too soon to tell just exactly what may be approved in its final form.
“A great deal of time, energy and effort has been spent on a matter that we hope can soon be laid to rest. All along, however, our desire has simply been to protect high school football in our state.”
Adams is a member of the ECU Hall of Fame, having played basketball for the Pirates from 1956-59. Adams was recruited to North Carolina with the class that produced the Tar Heels’ 32-0 team in 1957, but he subsequently transferred.
The inconsistency in the NCHSAA’s stance on ECU’s Friday night game to many Pirates supporters was that Adams expressed no rebuke of N.C. State for playing a televised home basketball game on Friday, Nov. 22, another high school football night.
Meanwhile, Logan and many others still believe Hamrick could have avoided moving the Cincinnati game, based on a letter from an ESPN official to Adams last year that stated each conference and each school had its own decision to make about playing on Friday night. But CUSA associate commissioner Dennis Helsel and ESPN programming director Dave Brown said the Pirates really had little choice based on the league’s contract with the network, and the fact that televising Cincinnati’s game at Louisville on Thursday, Nov. 7, was contingent on ECU’s game with Cincinnati being moved.
Logan was worried that ECU’s in-state recruiting will suffer. Hamrick was looking at the bottom line — increased expenses in the athletic budget and decreased revenues.
The differences between Logan and Hamrick were compounded by ECU’s five-game losing streak, which stretched from the 2001 season into mid-September before a narrow home victory over Tulane. The streak included a defeat at Duke that allowed the Blue Devils to snap a string of 23 straight losses.
When the Pirates win consistently, the television and ticket revenues are enhanced. Lose and the business of football at ECU takes a downward turn.
Logan and Hamrick could be compared to two business partners pointing the finger at one another when profits are down. When ECU wins, the two can co-exist professionally, as they have done for seven years. If the Pirates continue to lose, however, expect more sparks to fly.