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View from the East
Thursday, February 6, 2003

By Al Myatt
ECU Beat Writer for The News & Observer

Signing Day bash played to different 'beat'


The handful of reporters that surrounded Coach Steve Logan’s desk in the football office for the signing day news conference last year was quite a contrast to the relative throng of a few hundred — including fans — in the Harvey Hall of the Murphy Center on Wednesday for new ECU coach John Thompson's gala preview of his first recruiting class.

Logan was low key and typically deferred his evaluations of incoming classes. “How good is this class?” Logan would usually say. “I can tell you in four or five years.”

The last thing Logan wanted was for unreasonable expectations to be created because a recruiting service had rated a player or a class too high. That concern always tempered his enthusiasm on signing day. He didn’t want to manufacture a perception in the media that would be unfair for future ECU players to have to live up to.

In his occasionally forthright style, Logan summed up the signing day approach of one of his colleagues, former South Carolina coach Brad Scott. “Brad Scott bragged on his recruiting classes every year and you know what it got him? Defeated,” Logan said. That’s defeated, as in 0-11 — as opposed to undefeated. I think Logan made that statement on signing day in 1999, after Scott had been dismissed by the Gamecocks.

The more I see of Thompson, the more I realize he’s the opposite of his predecessor. That’s not a slam on the past or the future. The leadership of the football program has simply undergone a 180-degree personality change.

Low key? There was nothing remotely low key about the show at the Murphy Center, including video highlights of the incoming players set to music I’ve not heard on the radio stations I listen to. It is apparently not Thompson's standard fare of music, either, since he likes Travis Tritt. But that's O.K., according to the J.T. philosophy, because the players can relate. If you were looking for the Jimmy Buffett concert, that was in Raleigh.

Thompson wants “everybody involved.” He talks about players “taking ownership” of the program.

He thanked everybody involved in the recruiting process that produced 19 new signees on Wednesday and I mean everybody — from the pep band that helped when the recruits were introduced on their visits to Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium, to the guys who fixed the field like it was a game day, to the staff at the Hilton Inn where the recruits stayed.

Pete Murphy got major gratitude for providing the ECU coaches with a jet and pilot that facilitated a recruiting trip to Florida. Everybody remotely associated with ECU football is a cousin in Thompson’s family.

Thompson was defensive coordinator at Florida before taking the ECU job on Dec. 20. He and new defensive coordinator Jerry Odom, who was Gators linebackers coach, parlayed their Florida connections into eight signees from the Sunshine state.

Fire up the fan base and recruit Florida. It’s a formula that’s worked well for Chuck Amato at N.C. State. The only difference so far is that Amato hired a “$1 million” coaching staff that initially included revered offensive coordinator Norm Chow. Thompson still has some work to do in that area but — trust him — he’s taking care of it. He introduced the members of his new staff thus far and their families on Wednesday.

New defensive line coach Fred Tate was introduced and then Thompson allowed him to leave. Tate had a plane to catch. He’s getting married this weekend. Thompson told him to just keep saying, “Yes, dear” and he would be fine.

After thanking a good portion of the university and Greenville communities, Thompson turned his attention to his first recruiting class. “We want to make today a celebration for the Pirate family,” Thompson said. “... This is a day to talk about new babies in our family.”

The new offspring appear to be a healthy lot, with generally good size and speed, even if they haven’t overwhelmed the recruiting experts. had ECU’s class rated No. 103 nationally on Wednesday evening although it showed only 12 signees. That put the Pirates ninth in Conference USA. How's that for a nice chip on the Pirates’ shoulders to start the Thompson era?

Running backs coach Jerry McManus got a standing ovation on Wednesday for maintaining the in-state commitments in the coaching transition, including Wilson Beddingfield quarterback/defensive back Pierre Parker, who didn’t relent under late pressure from North Carolina.

The class features only two players whose commitments had been unreported by, defensive back Kyle “the concussion giver” Chase of Atlanta Cedar Grove and tight end Josh Coffman of Palmetto, Fla. There was one previously undetected defection, offensive lineman L.A. Watson of Lynchburg, Va. Heritage High, to Richmond.

The video highlights showed Chase applying a hit that caused an opponent to lose his helmet. There was tape of Scottsdale Community College back Kevin Fain running over, through and away from the guys in the other jerseys. Manny Levell of Miami Edison looked big-time scary at tight end. Parker did his Houdini act to the strains of “Smooth Criminal.” Defensive lineman Todd Springfield of Jonesboro (Ga.) Lovejoy was shown discarding blockers liked stuffed animals. Wide receiver Steven Rogers of Augusta, Ga. reminded Thompson to introduce new graduate assistant and former ECU star receiver Larry Shannon. Running back Robert Tillman of South Robeson outran all of his co-stars on the highlight reel.

Mike Ritchie, the new director of football operations, which corresponds to a degree to the old position of recruiting coordinator, said “We did a year’s work in five weeks,” in regards to recruiting. Thompson and his partially-assembled staff seem to have done a great job under the circumstances. Given the manner in which the incoming players were presented on Wednesday, the core fan base may be as excited about this group as any in the program’s history.

Now Thompson can focus on completing his staff and getting to know the players in the program as well as he’s gotten to know the new recruits. Offseason workouts start at 6 a.m. next Tuesday and, by the way, you’re invited. I think the new Pirates coach was kidding about that but he did say spring practice would be open, which met an “Aaahhh” of approval among the Murphy Center gathering.

If you didn’t get the invitation in person on Wednesday, you may have an opportunity at one of the 19 stops on the Pirate Club banquet circuit later this year. The meetings have been consolidated from 32 last year to a more manageable number. Pirate Club director Dennis Young said Thompson has committed to appear at all of the banquets. And spring drills start March 28, so come on out.

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02/23/2007 12:40:02 AM

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