It’s said that you only get one chance to make a first
impression. New East Carolina football coach John Thompson made the most of
that opportunity on Friday.
Greenville resident Trenton Britt graduated from East
Carolina in 1993. Tim Martin of Bobby Murray Toyota in Rocky Mount provides
a vehicle for the ECU athletics department and Vance Tingler played
defensive tackle for the Pirates from 1977-79 in the era of Coach Pat Dye.
All three had made their way to the Harvey Banquet Hall at
the Murphy Center on Friday for Thompson’s introductory news conference.
“That why I’m here,” Britt said. “I know what I’ve read and
I remember when he was at Southern Miss. I’m wondering about his demeanor.”
Martin said, “It’s a glimpse of the future.”
Tingler rode over with Martin. “I wanted to check it out and
see what he’s all about,” said the former Pirate player.
Thompson has been defensive coordinator at a number of
programs including Southern Miss, Arkansas and Florida.
ECU athletics director Mike Hamrick assembled the pool of
candidates for the vacancy created by the departure of Coach Steve Logan and
there has been commentary about the fact that a current head coach wasn’t
“Look at Mark Richt at Georgia, Ralph Friedgen at Maryland
and Chuck Amato at N.C. State,” Hamrick said. “They were all coordinators.”
Hamrick said the search was wide-ranging but always came
back to Thompson.
“We were looking first and foremost for a person who’s a
motivator, that had energy and portrayed the Pirate pride,” Hamrick said.
“We wanted a recruiter. We wanted an excellent coach but more than anything
we wanted an excellent person. ... The references, the people around the
country rant and rave about East Carolina’s next head coach.
“I’m excited. I’m thrilled. It’s time to move the program
forward. It’s time to pull together and achieve what we all want to achieve
and I think we’ve made that first step today.”
Chancellor William Muse showed his sense of humor when he
invited Thompson to join him at the podium. He presented the new coach a
T-shirt with ECU’s new slogan “Tomorrow starts here.” Then, Muse told
Thompson, “I want to give you an ECU hat. I know you’re like me, you need
coverage on your head.”
Thompson’s hairline has receded over the years.
“You don’t get to be 47 years old and lose as much hair as I
have without learning something,” Thompson said. Part of his hair loss is
presumably due to the time he spent scheming defenses for ECU when he was at
Thompson first encountered ECU as defensive coordinator for
visiting Louisiana Tech in 1990 when the Pirates took a 27-17 win in the
season opener. He had more success as defensive coordinator at Southern Miss
from 1992 to 1998, going 5-2 against the Pirates in that span.
“We felt like we had to put special emphasis during the
summer on beating East Carolina because of the way this program was and the
athletes that they had and the things that they did,” Thompson said. “We
really had to spend a lot of extra time. I felt like Southern Miss really
made a turn when we started focusing on making this a key game. ... (ECU)
always had guys that they got the ball to out in the flats. They schemed you
real well so you had to put a lot of work in — not just game week.”
The Murphy Center is a new addition since Thompson last
visited with the Golden Eagles.
“I took the tour with Mike (Hamrick) and Nick Floyd (ECU
senior associate athletics director),” Thompson said. “I kept getting chill
bumps because I looked at it as a recruit. It’s intimidating when you’re out
there on the field. It really looks different with all this (the Murphy
Center). Now I feel a part of it and it’s really something to sell.”
One gets the feeling that John Bunting’s job at North
Carolina may have gotten tougher with Thompson’s arrival and his confidence
to recruit the best players. The same for Chuck Amato at N.C. State, Carl
Franks at Duke and Jim Grobe at Wake Forest.
The snapshot of Thompson with his family — wife Charleen,
sons Cabe (7) and Hays (4) with Hamrick and Muse at the table adjoining the
podium — would make a nice Christmas card for Pirates fans. And he may be
just the thing that a lot of ECU fans would have asked for from Santa Claus.
Enthusiasm was a frequently used term as first impressions
of Thompson were shared.
“I was very impressed with his enthusiasm,” Britt said. “I
think his enthusiasm was contagious. It’s really what most Pirate fans like
myself are looking for right now. I think that was the prevailing thought I
had coming away from the press conference was that he seems real excited to
be here. He seems to have an understanding of what we as Pirate fans want to
see from him.”
Martin gave a thumbs-up, too.
“I’m very excited about his enthusiasm, his positive
attitude,” Martin said. “I loved what he said about the players being such
an integral part of the team and also the Pirate community and family. It’s
wonderful to hear positive words coming from our coaches.”
Tingler had an understanding of how Thompson will be
received by his players.
“He seems very motivated, very excited,” Tingler said. “I’m
very excited about it. I think he’ll do a good job with the defensive
background that he brings. He seems to be very excited for the school. I
think they made a good choice.
"I’m very excited about a good start next year. He sees what
he’s got to do, bring his players up. That’s most important by far because
the transition is hard for players. I think he’s going to attack that right
away. He should do a good job for us.”