Matthew Jabs doesn’t understand all the details, but he understands championships.
Emotions were high for him Thursday, when he was informed East Carolina decided to discontinue men’s and women’s swimming and diving along with men’s and women’s tennis as part of cost-cutting measures during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The ECU men’s swimming and diving team won the American Athletic Conference championship in Houston on Feb. 22 for Jabs’ first league title as a head coach in his third season in charge. It also marked the team’s fourth American title in six seasons.
“We just need 25 yards of water and a place to dive, and we’ve proven time and time again that we’ll get the job done,” said Jabs, also an ECU swimmer from 1996-2000, during a phone interview Thursday night. “I’m still confused on the facilities aspect of it. ... I can only control what we do, and we were getting the job done in the facilities we had. I don’t feel like there’s a program in the department that accomplished more with less than what our kids did.
“They didn’t complain and they weren’t in my office whining about anything. It just didn’t happen, so that part of it is still is a little confusing to me. ... It hurts that all of the success and all the good that has come out of this program, both in the pool and out, is coming to an end under my watch. That part hurts.”
Officials on Thursday cited facilities and not wanting to invest long-term into Minges Natarioum as primary factors.
ECU has an interim chancellor in Ron Mitchelson. The Pirates were without an athletics director from March of 2018, when former embattled AD Jeff Compher was ousted amid angry fans, losing football seasons and brewing financial shortfalls, until Jon Gilbert was hired from Southern Miss in December of 2018.
“To be fair to Jon and his staff, I say none, and I mean none, of the financial issues they find themselves in are of their doing,” Jabs said. “It’s a lot of stuff they inherited, and the pandemic certainly didn’t do us any favors by accelerating a lot of things. ... I have respect for what he is doing here and feel bad about the mess he inherited and disappointed and sad that we are a casualty of it. But I do not agree with the decision to cut the program.”
East Carolina hasn’t produced a winning football season since 2014.
The Pirates are projecting a budget deficit of around $10 million for this fiscal year and are seeking university support like they have in years past.
Women’s tennis was top-five among Pirate teams with a multi-year academic progress rate score of 993 of 1,000 possible points, according to scores release by the NCAA earlier in the week.
The women’s tennis 2018-19 season included a program-record 22-match winning streak.
The ECU swimming and diving Twitter account posted on Monday its women’s team GPA for the spring semester was 3.67, and 3.23 for the men.
“Please understand that the decisions revealed today derived from a very deliberate and detailed process that involved substantial analysis,” Mitchelson said. “As far as I’m concerned, no rock was left unturned. While we have been aware of just how painful these decisions would be, the financial health of this university and its athletic programs is the greater good to be served.”
Gilbert said the Minges pool is owned by the university. Mitchelson said the pool will remain open for now, partly for academic reasons and scuba diving, but long-term plans were not immediately announced.
“I really don’t know what their plans are,” Jabs said. “I really don’t know. I know there is a community team, the East Carolina Aquatics Gators, that has been around a long time and is probably pretty concerned right now. What motivation does the university have to maintain a facility that has no university interest in it? So I don’t know what’s going to happen to it.”
After meeting with Gilbert on Thursday morning, one of Jabs’ first calls went to former longtime ECU swimming and diving coach Rick Kobe, who retired in 2017 as the fourth-winningest coach in NCAA history from 35 years leading the Pirates and more than 500 wins. After competing for Kobe and the Pirates in the late 1990s and graduating from ECU in 2001, Jabs transitioned into an assistant coach role and was promoted to head coach following Kobe’s retirement.
“That went about as you would expect,” Jabs said of his Thursday conversation with Kobe. “Coach is such a positive guy, and he will try to spin the positive on any situation. There are some frustrations and some anger, but also support.”