The situation is enough to make one consider the possible alternatives.
What if the letter Mike Hamrick, then athletics director at ECU, had
given coach Steve Logan from chancellor William Muse the morning of Dec. 7
had been a contract extension rather than one specifying the terms of
Where would ECU’s football program be right now under different
Where would it be in three years?
John Thompson isn’t Mr. Fix-it after all. The need for patience is
apparent after East Carolina’s 0-2 start under its first-year head coach.
Cincinnati and West Virginia have combined to outscore the Pirates 88-10.
And No. 2 Miami coming up on Saturday at 7 p.m. in the Orange Bowl?
Hardly seems sporting.
This isn’t to condemn Thompson or the program, although it’s hard to be
objective without sounding critical given ECU’s horrendous start.
Circumstances seem to have conspired against the Pirates. Defensive
shortcomings were apparent in the Pirates’ demise to a 10-14 record over the
last two seasons.
So when Logan was shown the door, a replacement with a defensive
background seemed a logical choice. Thompson’s resume includes stops at
Southern Miss, Arkansas and Florida as defensive coordinator. Fix the
defensive deficiencies and everything would be fine. So it appeared.
Thompson did all the right things in the offseason — hired an
apparently-capable staff that put in new systems, fired up Pirate club
members on the banquet circuit, put together a good recruiting class within
a limited time frame, and resurrected the spring football game. Meanwhile,
the trickle down effect of ACC expansion created the possibility that a slot
in a BCS conference might open up for ECU.
Everything seemed to be moving in the right direction but reality has run
a reverse on the Pirates, who in 67 seasons of football have never given up
88 points in the first two games. In fairness, it should also be pointed out
that ECU has never led off with two teams as solid as the Bearcats and
Mountaineers with only four days in between.
The defense is certainly not the only area which is falling short.
The offense managed just two first downs in the first half at Cincinnati.
Five turnovers on Saturday night were seized on by West Virginia and
converted into five touchdowns. Special teams are the only aspect above
reproach at the moment.
ECU hasn’t scored as few as 10 points in its first two games since 1971,
when Toledo and William & Mary hung a couple of L's on the Pirates by a
combined margin of 73-10. That was also the first season for another ECU
coach, Sonny Randle, and he got things turned around to go 18-4 with a
couple of Southern Conference championships over the next two seasons.
The turnaround under Thompson may not happen as fast.
There’s little doubt that a long, uphill climb is at hand. Transfer
Patrick Dosh may step in at quarterback next year but he will do so behind
an offensive line that will be decimated with the loss of four starting
seniors. ECU’s go-to receiver Terrance Copper, who has 23 catches for 246
yards in two games, will also be gone.
It may take two solid recruiting classes before Thompson is able to get
some leverage on the talent situation. By that time, ECU’s chances of
upgrading its attractiveness with a berth in a BCS league also should be
“It goes back to this Johnny Cash song,” said offensive line coach J.B.
Grimes. “It’s sort of like that ‘Boy Named Sue.’ You go to get tough or
The Pirates were tougher against West Virginia with 23 first downs as
opposed to eight just five days earlier at Cincinnati.
“We obviously had a lot of unknowns with a brand new staff,” Grimes said.
“We had some unknowns and now we’ve got a starting point. The starting point
is a little further back than what we had hoped it to be but that’s what
getting better is all about. The biggest thing we have to do is see where we
are and see where we can get to and see how quick we can get there.”
Thompson emphasizes the need to keep working and you have to believe that
effort will eventually be rewarded.
“We’ve got to be more physical,” Thompson said. “We’ve got to play
harder. We’ve got to tackle better. We’ve got to block longer. ... If we’re
just a little bit better in every area, we’ll be a lot better as a team.”
If Logan were still in place, the present downturn might not have been as
abrupt. But given Thompson’s fervor for recruiting and his staff’s
connections to talent hotbeds, you have to believe the future is going to be
better. The current players — other than the true freshmen and transfer
Kevin Fain — were recruited in the Logan era and they have appeared severely
outmanned in two games.
There’s a history lesson to be learned from a sister school, whose
football team will play in Greenville for the first time on Oct. 11.
When Mack Brown followed Dick Crum as coach at North Carolina in the
1980s, two terrible seasons ensued. But Mack stayed focused on effort as
opposed to results and where the program was headed, not where it was. The
Tar Heels progressed to some of their best seasons before Mack saw he would
always be playing second fiddle to basketball at UNC and took off for bigger
paychecks at Texas.
Rest assured that Thompson will probably never leave the Pirates for that
reason. Football is king at ECU and that makes an 0-2 start all the more
difficult to bear. Still, the Pirates are in much same situation now that
the Heels were in when Brown arrived.
There will probably be a journey through the wilderness with ECU’s
coaching transition before there is an upturn. Sometimes it’s better to
contemplate the future than dwell on the past. Right now is one of those
times for the Pirates.
STATELINE POWER RANKINGS©
How the Division I-A teams in the Carolinas
stack up through games of Sept. 6:
South Carolina ... Gamecocks roll against a
Virginia team that’s missing QB Matt Schaub.
Wake Forest ... Deacons coach Jim Grobe
continues to work miracles with win over NCSU.
N.C. State ... How will Wolfpack bounce back at
defending national champion Ohio State?
Clemson ... Tigers recover from shutout loss to
Georgia to subdue Furman.
North Carolina ... Heels 0-2 against tough
competition with an open date, then Wisconsin.
Duke ... Blue Devils hold down Western Carolina
for a 27-3 win and 1-1 record.
East Carolina ... Pirates struggling with No. 2
Miami on deck.