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Clarance Stasavich, a first-generation American and coal miner’s son, served East Carolina as a head football coach, an athletic director, a health and physical education instructor, and a 1976 inductee into the ECU Sports Hall of Fame. “Stas,” as he was more commonly known, was born to Lithuanian immigrants on February 9, 1913, in Georgetown, Vermilion County, Illinois. His mother’s dream was to have Clarence attend college, so she spoke with one of his coaches who advised her that two colleges in North Carolina (Lenoir-Rhyne College and North Carolina State University) needed “strong linemen.” Stas chose the smaller school and in 1931 headed south to the Tar Heel state.
At Lenoir-Rhyne, Stas quickly caught the attention of his football coaches and fans. He also played on the basketball, baseball, and tennis teams. After earning his Bachelor’s degree in 1935, he accepted a position as an assistant coach for Campbell College in Buies Creek, North Carolina. In 1938, newly appointed Lenoir-Rhyne football coach, Robert “Pat” Shores, invited Stasavich to return to Hickory as the offensive line coach. Stas enthusiastically accepted the offer.
After the 1941 season, inter-collegiate football programs, including those at East Carolina and Lenoir-Rhyne, were suspended across the country owing to mobilization for World War II. Caught in the patriotic swell following the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Stasavich joined the U.S. Navy. Upon completion of training, he was given command of a Landing Ship Tank (LST) which was designed to support amphibious combat operations on unimproved shores. Stas and his crew participated in landing operations in Tunisia, Sicily and Anzio, Italy, and Normandy, France. Ever the devoted family man, Stas wrote letters home to his wife and young children, describing life at sea, foreign ports of call, and the routines of wartime service.
After the war, Stasavich returned to Hickory as the newly appointed head football coach of Lenoir-Rhyne College. He implemented the single-wing offense, considered by many modern football coaches as the precursor to the spread formations prevalent in inter-collegiate football today. Using this system, Stasavich’s squads emerged victorious in 121 out of a total 164 games across sixteen seasons, winning the 1960 National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) football championship and recognition as the 1950 NAIA Coach of the Year.
He was recruited to East Carolina by school president, Dr. Leo Jenkins, in 1962 to improve the athletic department in hopes of joining the Southern Conference. In his first season at the helm of the football squad, the Pirates finished with a record of 5-4. In 1963, a 9-1 season was capped off by a win in the Eastern Bowl over Northeastern University. Two consecutive 9-1 seasons followed with successive victories in the Tangerine Bowl. His three season record of 27-3 from 1963-1965 is the greatest run of that length in school history.
In 1966, injuries decimated the Pirates and they experienced their first losing season under Stas, finishing the year 4-5-1. They rebounded in 1967, posting an 8-2 mark before finishing 6-13 across Stas’ final two seasons on the sideline. In 1970, he hired former Duke University All-American lineman, Mike McGee, to take his place as head football coach, moving into the role of full-time athletics director.
McGee lasted a single season in Greenville and was replaced by assistant coach Sonny Randle. Stasavich’s final coaching hire in 1974 saw Pat Dye take the helm of the Pirate program. On October 24, 1975, Stas passed away after suffering a heart attack. When asked if they should postpone the next day’s game against the University of North Carolina Tarheels, Stas’ widow responded, “No, just win it.” Armed with hastily-made signs and stickers, a caravan journeyed west to Chapel Hill urging the team to “Win one for Stas.” During the final seconds of the game ticked away, Dr. Jenkins removed his coat and began to undo the buttons of his shirt. As the game ended with East Carolina ahead 38-17, East Carolina’s first football victory over UNC, Jenkins unveiled his undershirt which read “Now Do You Believe?” For his efforts, Stasavich has been recognized for induction into the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame (1970), the ECU Hall of Fame (1976), and the National Association of Athletic Directors Hall of Fame (1977).