College Sports in the Carolinas
from the East
Monday, September 1, 2003
By Al Myatt
ECU Beat Writer for The News &
Department of defense assumes
It says a lot about East Carolina's defensive coordinator
when the man who picked him is John Thompson, the Pirates' first-year head
coach. Thompson has developed a high degree of professional judgment about
coordinating defenses because that's what he's done himself for the bulk of
his 22 years on the collegiate level at stops such as Florida, Arkansas and
One could assume Thompson would be capable of making an
informed hire in that situation. That's a reason to feel good about Jerry
Odom even before the Pirates kick off the 2003 season at Cincinnati at noon
today (ESPN). Both Thompson and Odom are sons of coaches. Although neither
worked in their current position as a head coach or coordinator in Division
I-A before, they both feel they have been preparing most of their lives for
their new responsibilities.
Odom's dad is Gerald Odom, a highly successful high school
coach in Florida who is approaching the 300-win plateau. Thompson saw the
coaching gene in Odom last year when Odom coached linebackers on Thompson's
defensive staff at the University of Florida.
"We call him the Gap Guru," Thompson said. "He just has the
ability to see what's going on out there, break it down quickly and adjust."
Thompson and Odom inherited a Pirates defense that was
already broken down, so to speak. During a 4-8 season in 2002, ECU's offense
seemed to be repeatedly in the position of having to outscore the opposition
as a result of its own mistakes and the ineffectiveness of a defensive unit
whose passion seemed to have drifted down the Tar River. The Pirates allowed
445.7 yards of total offense per game, good for rock bottom in Conference
USA, and opponents averaged an all-too-healthy 33.2 points per game.
There would likely have been a drastic turnover in defensive
coaching personnel even if Steve Logan had remained head coach. But Thompson
was given the charge of righting a ship that had listed to 10-14 over the
last two seasons. His approach to getting ECU turned around has included
simplifying the offense, creating a ball control capability with a stronger
running game and reducing turnovers.
Elements of special teams play have been divided up among
the staff. Tight ends coach Steve Janski works with the kickoff coverage
team and wide receivers coach Lonnie Galloway is in charge of kickoff
And, of course, Thompson put the phase of the game closest
to his own heart, the defense, in Odom's hands. Cincinnati quarterback Gino
Guidugli may not recognize the defense he saw last season when he passed for
323 yards and four touchdowns in a 42-26 Bearcats win in ECU's last game.
That's part of the Pirates' new defensive design.
"We try to be real multiple — give a lot of different looks,
but still at the same time keep it relatively simple for our guys," Odom
said. "We have a system and we try to play within that system. I think it
gives us an opportunity to create mismatches and chaos on our side instead
of the offense trying to create mismatches on us."
Odom has encountered no lack of willingness on the Pirates
"I think what we've found here is some kids who want to play
ball," he said. "They want to be good. Some of them weren't quite sure how.
... I wouldn't talk about another staff. All I looked at was what we saw
last year. I think the thing that we're trying to do is to get them to take
responsibility for their actions. They have a certain responsibility and we
don't want them to let down their teammates.
"We want them to be disciplined, do their job and get to the
football. Be hungry, be disciplined and be smart. If we do those three
things, that's what we're looking for. We don't want to give up the big
play. Looking at last year, that was one thing that stood out. I believe
there were 39 plays in the range of 40 yards.
"They'd be playing great, playing great and all of a sudden
they'd give up two big plays. That's something we've got to eliminate. We've
got to keep ourselves in games and make people earn what they're going to
earn. ... The kids have really tried to respond. They want to be good."
Thompson said it took about half a season before the Florida
players grasped his system last season. He thinks the Pirates can adjust
faster because he has worked with the members of this defensive staff before
and they know what he wants.
Thompson was impressed with young ECU defensive backs coach
Matt Graves at Arkansas. Thompson coached with former Ole Miss defensive
coordinator Art Kaufman, ECU's defensive line coach, in the 1980s at
Northwestern (La.) State. ECU outside linebackers coach Fred Tate played on
some solid Southern Miss defensive fronts when Thompson coached there. And
Thompson developed an appreciation for the Gap Guru's skills last year at
Among the players who aren't yet household names among
Pirates fans, Odom feels defensive end Ike Emodi and defensive linemen Eric
Terry and Shauntae Hunt could emerge after missing spring practice. Mickey
McCoy and Markeith McQueen, who have moved over from the offensive side,
could also be capable of stepping up to significant roles. True freshman
defensive back Erode Jean has also been impressive, Odom said.
Odom played linebacker at Florida from 1987 to 1990 and
feels ECU's youthful linebacking corps will be a key element of defensive
"I want them to be the quarterbacks on the field
defensively," Odom said. "You can't do that if you're running around like a
chicken with your head cut off. We've really worked on what people are
trying to do to you blocking-scheme wise, where you fit in the defense off
the blocking scheme and where you fit in coverage. They want to be good.
That's been a pleasure. We haven't had any attitude problems."
Odom played in the Arena Football League and coached high
school football in the offseason in the 1990s. He retired as a player after
helping the Orlando Predators to the Arena Bowl championship in 1998. Being
a player relatively recently helps him relate to his defensive charges.
"There's some value," he said. "I think you know when you
can push 'em and when to get on 'em and other times when you put your arm
around them. You remember, 'Hot, hot day,' but that doesn't mean you're not
going to keep driving 'em to be the best they can be. At the same time, you
know there are times when you need to back off.
"You can't be their friend but you've got to be a guy who
kind of walks the edge of being their friend and being someone they respect.
I've watched coaches make the mistake of becoming a friend all the time and
players lose respect for you. I think I'd much rather be respected than have
a bunch of friends."
Odom and the Pirates have increasingly shifted focus from
learning new systems to preparing for Cincinnati during the course of
"They have a great quarterback, a guy who's thrown for a lot
of yards," Odom said. "He's been in the wars before and they have a lot of
confidence in him as a coaching staff. It's a situation where you obviously
better put a lot of emphasis on him. At the same time, they run the ball
very well out of their one-back stuff.
"They've got their inside core, two centers and a guard
back, and after that we don't know a lot about them. They've got some other
guys who have played some. Their receivers, they tell me, are very athletic.
One was a back-up quarterback so he can do some good things for them. I
don't expect them to change a whole lot. They've kind of done what they've
done the last three of four years and been very, very successful at it.
"Our challenge is to go in there and we've got to keep
mixing it up. We've got to make them work. ... I don't think they're going
to change that much but if they do, we've got a plan for that, too. They're
a good football team. We're going to have to play well but I'm confident
that if we play well, we'll be happy with the results."
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02/23/2007 12:41:38 AM