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View from the East
Thursday, December 26, 2002

By Al Myatt
ECU Beat Writer for The News & Observer

Thompson one of Ma Bell's best customers these days



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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 better.

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 me.”

One of the big questions is who Thompson will hire for coordinators.

“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, appreciated that.

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 City.”

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.

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02/23/2007 12:57:48 AM

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