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Dooley left good situation for Pirates

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East Carolina basketball coach Joe Dooley speaks during a Greenville-Pitt County Chamber of Commerce power luncheon last week.

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By RONNIE WOODWARD
The Daily Reflector

Saturday, May 26, 2018

It is not easy to leave a winning program for one mired in a string of four straight losing seasons and that hasn’t been to the NCAA tournament since 1993.

Joe Dooley did that in April when he left Florida Gulf Coast, a team he led to the NCAAs in 2016 and ’17, to take over at East Carolina for his second stint with the Pirates.

Dooley said earlier this week that a key factor in his decision was the conferences in which both teams play. FGCU is in the Atlantic Sun, a league that usually only sends one team to the NCAA tournament, the squad that wins the A-Sun tournament.

ECU is in the American Athletic Conference, which is in much higher regard nationally in large part because of programs like Cincinnati, Wichita State, Connecticut, Temple and others.

“(FGCU) will be predicted first or second again next year, but that being said, it’s a one-bid league and you have to win three games (in the A-Sun tournament),” Dooley said. “That’s the frustrating part because you know it’s not going to be a multiple-bid league. Here, the challenge is to get to the top half of the league and it is a terrific league and we’re excited about that.”

Like the Pirate coach before him in Jeff Lebo, Dooley also has referenced the importance of moving up in the AAC standings. ECU finished 11th out of 12 teams last season with a 4-14 league record.

The Pirates’ best finish in the American came in 2015 when they tied for seventh place when the conference had 11 teams.

“If you get to the top half of this league, you are in a postseason tournament and that’s our goal,” Dooley said. “That’s the whole deal and now the fight is to get to that top half of the league. When you look at it, Memphis is spending $235,000 per year per player and we are spending $55,000.

“There is discrepancy, but that being said, that doesn’t ensure that you are going to win and there a lot of programs that spend a lot of money and it doesn’t translate. But this is a big boy league.”

Like football coach Scottie Montgomery, special athletics adviser Dave Hart and others at ECU have discussed, Dooley is optimistic about the possibility of Pirate student-athletes getting some type of training table. This would allow for players to receive personalized food options and opportunities separate from the regular dining hall experience, which in theory should improve their diet and performance.

“If we can get this training table, that is a major morale deal and you are not at an disdvantage,” Dooley said. “Years ago when I was recruiting I used to always figure out who is helping me, but now I try to figure out who is hurting us. What they can do is look and see they don’t have a training table and this is a big deal because another school can say, ‘Well, they don’t care.’”

ECU hasn’t been to the postseason since losing to Wright State in the opening round of the 2014 CollegeInsiders.com Tournament. The highlight of the Lebo era was winning the CIT the previous year during a 23-12 campaign.

The Pirates have slipped since then, and part of the reason is not being able to keep pace in the AAC.

“Our fans want us to be good in basketball and we have to figure it out and that’s why we’re here,” Dooley said. “I do think the fans want it and let’s cut to the chase, it’s a revenue deal. We want football to be successful and we want basketball to be successful and all the sports to be successful, but especially in the revenue sports because if you are successful then it means more money for everybody.”

Contact Ronnie Woodward at rwoodward@reflector.com, 252-329-9592 and follow @RonnieW11 on Twitter.

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