Pirate fans have wondered who the next head coach would be for East Carolina University’s basketball team ever since Jeff Lebo’s resignation on Nov. 29. When ECU named Joe Dooley the head coach on April 4, Pirate fans got their coach, and, more importantly, got the right coach.
During Dooley’s introductory press conference, he said, “sometimes things happen for a reason” when referring to his time away from ECU since 1999. Dooley couldn’t be more right in my opinion, as the timing for both ECU and for Dooley is right.
Dooley was an assistant coach under Eddie Payne from 1991-95 then the head coach from 1995-99. ECU’s last trip to the NCAA Tournament came while Dooley was an assistant in 1993, and as a head coach he compiled a 57-52 record. That .523 winning percentage is still the best for any ECU men’s basketball coach, but it still resulted in his firing by former Athletic Director Mike Hamrick in 1999, which was never a popular decision in the first place.
That’s where the “things happen for a reason” line comes in. Dooley was only 29 when hired as head coach of ECU. Since being fired, the coach has amassed 19 years of coaching, which include three years at the University New Mexico (1999-2002) and a year at Wyoming (2002-2003), but it was Dooley’s 10 seasons with Bill Self at Kansas University (2003-2013) that caused his biggest growth.
During his time at Kansas, Dooley became one of the best recruiters in the nation. He recruited and coached 14 future NBA draft picks, including Cole Aldrich and Mario Chalmers. This is particularly invaluable now, considering recruiting, or lack thereof, was something Lebo was often criticized for. It is also especially valuable now considering the rebuild of the ECU basketball program that Dooley is about to undertake, and recruiting better players is the first and possibly most important step.
Dooley has already put forth the experience gained as an assistant at these successful programs, especially being a part of the 2008 Kansas national championship team. While being head coach at Florida Gulf Coast University from 2013-18, Dooley led FGCU to a 114-58 record and two trips to the NCAA Tournament in 2016 and 2017.
ECU athletics has also come a long way since Dooley was last in Greenville. ECU was in the Colonial Athletic Association while Dooley was head coach. After a stint in Conference-USA from 2001-14, ECU moved up to the American Athletic Conference in 2014. The AAC is arguably the best and deepest conference outside of the traditional “Power 5” conferences: the Atlantic Coast, Big 12, Big 10, South Eastern and Pacific 12 conferences.
This was something Dooley raved about during his press conference. He said he was “shocked” when walking through the facilities and seeing the resources ECU has, saying that there are definitely resources available now that weren’t around when he was head coach at ECU the first time. Dooley then explained being able to play in the AAC, which is a league that just sent three teams to the NCAA Tournament, instead of playing in leagues that only send the conference champion to the tournament, is a huge opportunity for the Pirates.
The timing for both sides is also right because now is a time where both sides want each other equally. ECU needed a coach to come in and make the ECU men’s basketball program a contender, and they hired the coach with the best winning percentage in the program’s history. Dooley may have been successful at FGCU by any measure, but the fans there never appreciated it after the way Andy Enfield left the program in 2013 after leading the team to a cinderella “Sweet 16” run. At ECU however, Dooley will get a school and community that he knows well and that will be very receptive of him.
Dooley’s parents have stayed in Greenville ever since the 90s when he previously worked here, and he knows the culture as well as anyone. Dooley was almost brought back as head coach in 2010, but ultimately contract negotiations fell through and Lebo was hired instead.
The time away between ECU and Dooley has allowed both to come a long way in growth. The timing being so perfect for both sides this time around really adds up to Dooley’s remarks that sometimes things just happen for a reason. The timing and style of this reunion is ultimately the result of things just happening for a reason.