New East Carolina football coach John Thompson said on
Tuesday, Christmas Eve, that he probably had over 300 phone calls to return.
He left Greenville on Sunday to resume his defensive coordinator
responsibilities for the University of Florida in the Outback Bowl.
I guess I was one of the lucky ones if you discount the
intestinal virus that had struck me early that morning. It was either a
virus or some bad Chinese food. But hearing from Thompson made me feel
Those present for his initial news conference on Friday saw
that he can light up a room with his enthusiasm, and his positive energy
translates over a phone line as well.
“I talked to all of our commitments and some recruits,”
Thompson said of his first weekend as Pirates head coach. “I talked to a lot
of potential staff. It’s unbelievable the number of people who have called
about working on our staff at East Carolina. It shows the respect that
people have for the program.”
Thompson talked to former staff members, including running
backs coach Jerry McManus, who has recruited North Carolina, east of I-95
for the Pirates. McManus completed his seventh season at ECU with a second
straight 1,000-plus yard rusher as Art Brown followed Leonard Henry in
achieving that distinction.
“He’s going to stay with us,” Thompson said of McManus.
“He’s kind of held things together in recruiting. He’s been a big help to
One of the big questions is who Thompson will hire for
“I’ve got an idea of what I want to do on offense,” Thompson
said. “Obviously you look and see what style of play is adaptable to the
players we have. You take players and adapt the system. As far as an
offensive coordinator, you look at his background and what he’s done can be
a factor, too.”
One of the biggest challenges in coaching is determining a
group’s strengths and playing to them.
“Offensively or defensively, you start with what your best
players can do — what are the strengths and what are weaknesses,” Thompson
said. “You want to get around the weaknesses somehow.”
The work at hand for Thompson is preparing for Michigan on
New Year’s Day in Tampa, Fla. (11 a.m., ESPN). He’s been studying what
defenses have done against the Wolverines this season.
“You see a different style of defense in the Big 10 from the
SEC or Conference USA,” Thompson said. “In the Big 10, the standard is
power. Defenses in the SEC and C-USA have power but they’re built a little
more around speed. I’ve been looking at tapes of Michigan and seeing how
people were successful doing what they did against them and focusing on what
we are capable of doing.
“Our game plan is in and we don’t want to overdo it in terms
of adjusting to what Michigan does,” Thompson said. “Everybody makes a big
deal of the speed versus power thing but the main thing is for us to go out
and play like we’re capable of playing.”
The Gators will convene today in Tampa to continue
preparing. Thompson will continue to return as many calls as he can.
“I could spend all of my time calling recruits or all my
time calling staff,” he said Tuesday. “But it’s 4:30 (p.m.) on Christmas
Eve, I’ve got to do a little Christmas shopping right now.”
I’m sure his family — wife Charleen and sons, Cabe and Hays,
I called Thompson back late on Christmas afternoon to check
on one thing I noticed from his biographical information in the 1999 media
guide from Memphis, where he was defensive coordinator for one season. It
said he was born in El Paso, Texas but the information from Florida listed
his hometown as Forrest City, Ark.
“I was born in El Paso,” Thompson confirmed. “My dad (Ralph)
was in the Army at Fort Bliss. I graduated from high school in Forrest
The new Pirates coach said he was having a good Christmas.
“Still enjoying it,” he said.
He must have gotten that shopping done. Something tells me
he’s going to be a pretty good shopper for ECU, too, when it comes to
procuring quality recruits.
Thompson can contact potential players by phone over the
next three weeks — one call per player per week. Then a live period starts
for three weeks before national signing day on Feb. 5. Coaches may have one
personal contact per week with a recruit during that time.
Thompson will be back with the Pirates by then, working the
phones and using his personality to build his program. In the meantime, I
expect I’ll watch the Outback Bowl with an interest I didn’t anticipate
prior to last week.