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View from the East
Tuesday, September 9, 2003

By Al Myatt
ECU Beat Writer for The News & Observer

Pirate Nation stares at reality nine months later


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 Logan’s dismissal?

Where would ECU’s football program be right now under different leadership?

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 defined.

“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 die.”

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.


How the Division I-A teams in the Carolinas stack up through games of Sept. 6:

  1. South Carolina ... Gamecocks roll against a Virginia team that’s missing QB Matt Schaub.
  2. Wake Forest ... Deacons coach Jim Grobe continues to work miracles with win over NCSU.
  3. N.C. State ... How will Wolfpack bounce back at defending national champion Ohio State?
  4. Clemson ... Tigers recover from shutout loss to Georgia to subdue Furman.
  5. North Carolina ... Heels 0-2 against tough competition with an open date, then Wisconsin.
  6. Duke ... Blue Devils hold down Western Carolina for a 27-3 win and 1-1 record.
  7. East Carolina ... Pirates struggling with No. 2 Miami on deck.

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02/23/2007 12:41:40 AM

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