Friday, February 12, 2010

Defiantly Dutch Q&A: Brian Mull

First things first: My apologies for not posting a Drexel recap yet. After I dug out the cars yesterday, some paying work made its way across my virtual desk and occupied the rest of my afternoon and evening. I appreciate your patience and will have that recap up later today or early this evening.

In the meantime, check out this Q&A I conducted via email with Brian Mull, who covers UNC Wilmington—whom the Flying Dutchmen visit tomorrow night—for the Wilmington StarNews. Mull was kind enough to interview me before the first game of the season between the Dutchmen and Seahawks. That game, of course, turned out to be the last for UNCW head coach Benny Moss, who was “reassigned” following the Dutchmen’s 39-point rout.

Moss’ unprecedented firing was just the latest in a string of wild events to occur this season for the Seahawks as well as Mull. UNCW has had three games postponed by snow and Mull got into a car accident trying to cover the first of the blizzard games against Virginia in December.

Mull discusses what is at stake for UNCW as it pursues a new head coach as well as what it’s like to cover a program that is passionately followed by its fans and why he’s willing to go to such lengths to cover the Seahawks. Thanks to Brian for his time and stop back later for the Drexel recap as well as a brief preview of the weekend’s action.


Tell us a little about yourself (background/how many years in the biz/years on the beat).

After a decade doing various jobs in the golf industry, I returned to journalism in the fall of 2002. I say return because throughout high school and college I wrote game stories and features for my hometown newspaper. I landed in Wilmington in the summer of 2002 and started working part-time at the StarNews shortly thereafter, answering phones on Friday nights, taking statistics and writing 200-word game summaries. From there I just kept hanging around, doing whatever was needed, from working the copy desk to covering the NCAA Tournament. I took over the UNCW beat in March 2006 and was hired as a staff writer three months later.

How surprised were you by the Benny Moss firing?

Very surprised at the timing. It was an unprecedented move at UNCW. I'm almost certain they had never fired a men's basketball coach, just simply let their contracts expire. The economy is no better in North Carolina than it is anywhere else and the UNCW athletic department's fundraising has suffered accordingly. From a strictly financial standpoint, I didn't think it was an option. However, apparently enough boosters had seen enough and assured the athletic director that they would help ease the financial burden if a change was made.

Describe the 24-48 hours after Moss' firing--what it was like for you chasing the story?

It was wild. A rush of adrenaline, fueled by caffeine and conversation. My flight home from Long Island landed in Wilmington around 3:30. Sources tipped me off around 7 p.m., about an hour after the AD notified Moss. I spent the next three hours on the phone, answering text messages, trying to piece it together and make a case strong enough to write. Finally about 10:15, or 15 minutes before my deadline for the next day's newspaper, the entire story came together. I tried to go to sleep about  3 a.m., but had so many questions running through my head, that I jumped up, walked into my office and started working. That was Friday, which bled into Saturday, a game day. Of course, shortly thereafter my attention turned toward thinking about the next coach.

UNCW is not that far removed from some incredibly successful seasons. Is returning there as simple as finding the right coach, or do the problems run deeper?

Finding the right coach is by far the most important. If the wrong hire is made at this point, the program is doomed. UNCW needs an overachiever as coach, someone who can embrace the challenges here and use them in a positive fashion. The program has the lowest budget in the CAA. The facilities need an upgrade. The academic standards are stringent. But it also has a passionate fan base that is desperate to be relevant again, a great homecourt setting and of course, a beautiful beach less than five miles away. Reaching the NCAA Tournament four times in seven years again might be unrealistic, but UNCW can return to the CAA's elite where finishing in the top four and vying for the postseason are attainable goals.

Do you think UNCW's long-term home is in the CAA, or do you envision it finding a more southern home with some fellow non-football schools?

Based on geography and budget, the Big South makes more sense than the CAA. Of course most of the fan base shudders at the idea, because it would be a significant step down in men's basketball. I think there's a commitment to remain in the CAA. If that's the case, the AD and her staff need to a clear plan that includes focusing resources on the programs that are already competitive regionally and nationally.

Up here at Hofstra, we often bemoan the lack of fan interest in the men's basketball program. What's it like covering a program that certainly appears to have powerful boosters and a rabid fan base?

It's great. Every writer wants readers and wants to write about relevant topics. Even though the team has struggled in three of my four seasons on the beat, the interest level has remained high for a mid-major basketball program. This is, after all, the only game in town, and we cover them intensely, on par with or perhaps exceeding the coverage the ACC schools in our state receive.

How much feedback do you get on the blog? More than via the newspaper articles?

Recently, in the wake of Moss' dismissal, the feedback has been through the roof. And the blog definitely sees more traffic. I feel that we've developed a solid community over there. Sometimes the conversations become heated, but the readers do a good job policing each other and avoiding personal attacks. I want people to feel they can come there, ask questions, get answers and participate in constructive debate. For the most part, I feel that 's what the blog offers.

You got into a car accident while on the road this year, and when you couldn't cover the Delaware and Towson games because of the weather, you live tweeted and posted in-game blogs while listening to and watching the games online. Describe the passion you have for your job that motivates you to go to such lengths when it'd be entirely understandable if you went about things in a less stressful and thorough manner.

Well, I'm probably a little nuts. A lot if you ask my wife. I don't know, I'm just extremely competitive and look at this beat like I own it. I expect to break all the stories, know the coaches and players better than anyone else and have my finger on the pulse of the team. I've missed three games in four years and two of those occurred this week. It was very strange listening to those games on the radio. Not that the team needs me there to play the game, I certainly understand that the show can and will go on without me, I just look at it as my responsibility to be the eyes and ears for those fans and followers who care so much about this team.

Email Jerry at or follow Defiantly Dutch at

No comments: