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College Sports in the Carolinas

View from the East
Monday, August 11, 2003

By Al Myatt
ECU Beat Writer for The News & Observer

Will wet prelude evoke best or worst in 2003 Pirates?


Contemplating East Carolina football against the recent backdrop of heavy rain awakens memories of the high and low points of the program under former coach Steve Logan — a 27-23 win over Miami in 1999 and a 23-16 loss to Duke in 2002.

The prolonged deluge from Hurricane Floyd forced ECU's 1999 matchup with the Hurricanes to be moved to Raleigh, where 45,900 fans converged from flood-ravaged areas to be inspired by ECU's spirit as the Pirates rallied from a 23-3 deficit. Under the circumstances, it was an outcome that transcended sports. In a region devastated by a catastrophic weather event, the Pirates provided people with courage to deal with adversity.

Fast forward to 2002 and there was more rain on the night of Aug. 31 at Wallace Wade Stadium. It seemed almost inconceivable that the Blue Devils, who had lost 23 straight, could find an end to their frustration against ECU, which was coming off its third straight bowl trip. But Duke was boosted by the soggy conditions. The Blue Devils' 250-pound fullback Alex Wade pounded the Pirates with a "3 yards and a splash of water" approach.

The win over Miami led to a fat, new contract for Logan. The loss to Duke started ECU toward a 4-8 season and helped its winningest coach out the door after 11 seasons at the helm of the Pirate ship.

Well, of course, it's raining again. Will we remember the first preseason camp in the John Thompson era at ECU against a backdrop of precipitation?

Thompson at this point is a seemingly boundless supply of energy devoted to running a reverse on ECU's 2002 football fortunes. His primary credentials are listed on an extraordinary defensive resume, a 180-degree change in many ways from Logan and a hope for better things. He hasn't had a game on the college level as a head coach but he's spent more than two decades getting ready.

Thompson began coaching on the college level in 1982 as a graduate assistant at Arkansas.

From there, he moved to Northwestern State in Natchitoches, La. — which, coincidently, is the alma mater of East Carolina chancellor William V. Muse — in 1983 and served two stints as defensive coordinator of the Demons (1983-86 and 1988-89). In between, he coached linebackers at Alabama in 1987 when Bill Curry was coach of the Crimson Tide.

Thompson had Curry, now a college football analyst on ESPN, come in and speak to the Pirates coaching staff and players when ECU began preseason practice last week.

After two seasons as defensive coordinator at Louisiana Tech, Thompson joined the staff at Southern Miss and was defensive coordinator from 1992-98. He left Hattiesburg to return as defensive coordinator at 1999 at Memphis, which is close to the area where he grew up in Arkansas.

He left Memphis for LSU and was only there a few months, going back to Arkansas, where he was defensive coordinator for the Razorbacks for two seasons, 2000-01. After spending last season as defensive coordinator on Ron Zook's staff at Florida, Thompson realized a career dream to become a head coach when a search committee headed by Muse selected him to become ECU's new head coach on Dec. 20, 2002.

"I've been getting ready for this situation for a long time," Thompson said at ECU's media day on Saturday.

The design is for everything — new staff, new schemes and new attitude — to come together by the Sept. 1 opener at Cincinnati. Getting the most out of the occupants of three buses which have been going back and forth between the City Hotel and Bistro and the Cliff Moore Practice Facility has been first and foremost for Thompson since practice began on Thurs., Aug. 7.

"I don't think in 25-plus years of coaching, I've ever looked more forward to a season or actually a camp than I have these last couple of weeks," Thompson said. "We've got a lot to accomplish. There's a lot of jobs, probably more jobs of any team I've ever been involved with that we've got to make some clear-cut decisions as soon as we can.

" ... The key thing with this team is obviously our personnel. We've got good people. We've got good guys on this team — good, quality human beings. We've got good football players on this team, too. It's our job to get them in the right spot and get them developed to be where we need to be to be a factor in this conference."

Thompson feels the Pirates will be able to count on an offensive balance.

"Obviously I think the strength of our team has got to start with our offensive line," Thompson said. "We've got a lot of guys coming back there. Along with our running backs, we should be able to run the football. We've got a lot of guys coming back there that have been productive before. We've got to run the football there.

"We will be a productive team in throwing the football. We're just going to cut down on our turnovers. We do that and we're going to be a very, very good offensive team."

Defense is obviously Thompson's forte as the decades of his resume attest. The 33.2 points that ECU allowed its opponents last season wasn't the sole responsibility of the 2002 defensive unit. Turnovers by the offense were too often a factor but there is still a lot of room for improved performance on that side of the ball.

"Defense has got to be our first priority in getting better, absolutely," Thompson said. "We've got some new guys on defense. We've got some new ways to do things. Probably the No. 1 thing there to get better on defense is to establish some confidence. ... "

Thompson will get the most out of the talent on hand. That's a safe assumption. The question is how much of last year's 4-8 record was due to lack of talent. If that's still the issue, Thompson will address it through recruiting. Those who know in college football say he's put together an incredible staff. If he can recruit coaches, he and his staff can recruit players.

It would be nice if the new coach can produce immediate results, in consideration of the conference affiliation issues floating around and a schedule at hand that features Miami in the Orange Bowl and North Carolina at home for the first time.

Thompson will win. He knows what it takes and has the will to get it done. It's just a matter of time. The sun will shine again on ECU football.

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02/22/2007 11:53:52 PM

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