An official announcement on the employment of East Central University's head coach Kurt Nichols has yet to be made, but he feels he has done a good job under the circumstances.

Nichols said the current state of the ECU athletic program, coupled with the school’s lack of a winning football tradition, will make it tough for anybody to win as coach of the Tigers unless changes are made.

“As long as there is a lack of commitment out of the school for football, this program is going to struggle,” he predicted. “We have the most antiquated facilities, the smallest dressing room, the smallest weight room, the oldest field and the smallest budget of anybody in the Lone Star Conference.

“Our coaches also have the smallest salaries, with the smallest number of full-time (coaches on the staff).

“My budget is $45,000 less than I had in junior college,” Nichols added. “My predecessor (McCarty) was able to spend $40,000 to $60,000 more than I was, and (the administration) has cut scholarships since I’ve been here. I had to play Sam Houston to get the money to supplement my strength coach’s salary and my defensive coordinator’s salary just to make it liveable. I take one bus to games when everybody else in the conference takes two, because we can’t afford (to take two). Last year, I was out of money in the middle of October, and that’s not because of overspending — it was the result of very basic spending.”

Nichols said he has had some support from ECU Athletic Director Brian DeAngelis (one of his biggest supporters last year after a second straight losing season) but feels the football program is taking a back seat to women’s sports under Dr. Richard Rafes, who replaced Dr. Bill Cole in 2006 as ECU President.

“I think the athletic director has decent intentions, because he put together enough financing last year to help me with recruiting, but the help is not coming from the top,” Nichols said. “I did all my recruiting last year for $5,000. I’ve cut money every way I can, I’ve stayed within my scholarship budget, and I had to cut scholarships after 2007 because of the way we’re configuring scholarships now.

“They’re spending more money on women’s athletics, and the football budget has been decreased,” he said. “Football isn’t a priority, and it’s been vocalized as a priority. We had no commitment to budget and no commitment to staff, and yet they still expect to win. Ada is off the beaten path. It’s a hard place to recruit to. I’ve had lots of coaching jobs, but this is the toughest job I’ve ever had. At least we knew going in what our limitations were at other schools.”

While Rafes wouldn’t comment on Nichols’ firing, he responded to the coach’s allegations by saying his administration is — and has always been — committed to helping all of ECU’s sports programs succeed, including football.

“We have made a commitment to football, and as a matter of fact I’ve signed the contracts to built a new strength and conditioning facility,” Rafes noted, adding that $430,000 of the $500,000 needed for the new facility has already been raised. “Plans have been drawn, and we will commence construction shortly. We’ve painted the stadium and we’ve allotted money for new bleachers.

“I’ve provided full allotments (of scholarships) for both men’s and women’s sports,” he added. “I don’t know how (the athletic department) is allocating it, but we have committed to full allotments for all sports. I think we have invested rather significantly in the football program and in the entire athletic program.”

Since Rafes became president two years ago, ECU has added two women’s sports — volleyball and golf — and has brought scholarship allotments for all women’s sports up to the level of other schools in the LSC. The school also retained Dr. Gerald Williamson (a member of the ECU faculty for more than 30 years and the interim athletic director before DeAngelis took over in the spring of 2006) as a full-time fundraiser for the athletic department.

“We had virtually no fundraising in athletics prior to 2006, and we’ve raised money for numerous projects,” Rafes explained. “Anybody who says we haven’t invested in athletics and in football doesn’t know the facts, because we have.

“We added two women’s sports, but we also funded those sports,” he said. “We are committed to elevating our athletics, and to do that, sometimes tough decisions have to be made. Football is king in Oklahoma and Texas, and it’s extremely important to us. We want to be successful, and success is a winning season. In spite of our record, I believe our football players have performed well on and off the field.”

Nichols said he believes he has been an asset to ECU athletics as a whole during his tenure, adding that he has also emphasized recruiting area and state players more than his predecessors.

“I’m the one who started the weight program for all other sports and hired a young man who would help with the weight program (Travis Reust) while also being a football coach,” he said. “I have sacrificed space and time to help this school financially. There are always going to be some problems, but I’ve tried to enhance the relationship with former alumni. We’re recruiting more in Oklahoma, and we’ve got more Ada players than ever before.

“I made a commitment when I came here, and all I wanted was to be held to conference standards,” Nichols added. “I’m held to a standard that is essentially higher than Division I standards with a budget that is absurd.”