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Watch for Al Myatt's profile of new ECU Chancellor Steven Ballard in this summer's Bonesville Magazine.

View from the East
Monday, August 9, 2004

By Al Myatt

ECU progressing, says old foe

 

 
 
 

Bonesville Magazine
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• PAT DYE: Short on Tenure, Long on Impact

• INSIDE PIRATE FOOTBALL
• Recruit Profiles
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• Tracking the Classes
• Florida Pipeline
• NCHSAA & ECU: Smooth Sailing Again

• HIGH HOPES FOR HOOPS

• SCOTT COWEN: Busting Down the Door

• KEITH LECLAIR on ECU's Field of Dreams

• BETH GRANT: Actress Still a Pirate
 

©2004 Bonesville.net

Conference USA gave out pullover windbreakers that denoted the league's 10th anniversary within the embroidery at the league's football media kickoff in Memphis last week.

Randy Butler has had an adversarial eye on East Carolina long before the conference was formed. That's part of his job.

Butler has been a member of the football coaching staff at Southern Miss since 1993. And before that, Butler was an offensive lineman for the Golden Eagles, making the East-West Shrine game and the Senior Bowl at the completion of his college career.

His familiarity with East Carolina goes back to his playing days. Butler and current ECU coach John Thompson worked together at Southern Miss when Thompson was the defensive coordinator for the program based in Hattiesburg, Miss., from 1992 to 1998.

Butler attended the media gathering last week in Memphis in place of Southern Miss coach Jeff Bower, whose father recently passed away. Butler has coached tight ends and defensive ends at Southern Miss. He is now assistant head coach and works with the defensive linemen of the Golden Eagles.

Southern Miss has won seven of its last eight games against ECU, including 38-21 last season in Greenville to cap a 1-11 season for the Pirates. ECU has been on a downward spiral since going 9-3 in 1999. The Pirates were 8-4 in 2000, 6-6 in 2001 and 4-8 in 2002.

"The first thing you look at when a program is no longer achieving at a certain standard is the talent level," Butler said. "I think that's what happened at East Carolina. They no longer had guys like David Garrard in the program."

Former coach Steve Logan, who produced a 69-58 record and five bowl trips in 11 seasons at the Pirate helm, admitted late in his tenure at ECU that the Bowl Championship Series structure had hurt recruiting.

"The kids have figured it out," Logan said. "They know the difference between a BCS school and a non-BCS school. We're no longer getting the David Garrards or Leonard Henrys into the program."

Thompson is determined to restore ECU's winning tradition and knows that recruiting is one key.

"We've got to get better players, play better and coach better," he said in Memphis.

ECU's first two known commitments of the 2005 signing class are solid from the standpoint of tradition and talent. Dave Thomas, III, who has played quarterback and defensive back at Tennessee 5-A power Murfreesboro Riverdale, and Josh Smith, an outstanding linebacker at traditionally-strong 4-A Garner in North Carolina, have boarded the Pirate ship.

Thomas, who projects as a wide receiver or defensive back, comes from a family of Pirates. His grandfather, Dave Thomas, played football from 1957-60 and was inducted into the ECU hall of fame in 1998. Dave Thomas, Jr., was a strong safety at ECU in 1983-84 and now coaches the freshman team at Murfreesboro Riverdale.

Thomas' uncle, Greg, who guided Greenville Rose to the state 4-A title last year, also played for the Pirates.

Smith has excellent speed (sub 4.5-second 40 yards) and great linebacking instincts. He is the first ECU commitment from Garner since James Payne, a running back whose academic difficulties precluded a college career. Current Garner coach Nelson Smith was an offensive tackle at ECU in the Pat Dye era and was pleased that one of his blue chippers has opted for purple and gold.

Thompson's hastily-assembled first recruiting class had an immediate impact on the program with nine true freshmen getting playing time in 2003. The class that was signed in 2004 included 16 players from talent-rich Florida where the current ECU staff has extensive contacts. The addition of former Williamston coach Harold Robinson in the area of high school relations is expected to boost in-state recruiting and Josh Smith is a good first step in that direction.

"We've got to improve," Thompson said. "East Carolina is not as good as its tradition right now and that's my job — to get it back where it deserves to be. That's one good thing about East Carolina. It has tradition and expectations and we've got to get it back."

Thompson conceded that ECU's talent deficit was greater initially than he thought when he took the job in December of 2002.

"I think there were people in the Pirate nation who saw (the talent situation) better than we did," he said. "I didn't see the differential in talent and where we've got to get to."

Despite the challenge of upgrading personnel, at least one veteran C-USA observer said ECU has already made progress. That would be the tall, soft-spoken and bespectacled Butler.

"When we looked at East Carolina last season — and we started looking at games about mid-season — we saw a football team that was getting better," said the veteran Southern Miss coach.

Callaway ERC Drivers

Golden Eagles should challenge

The C-USA preseason coaches poll had first-place votes distributed among four teams — Louisville, Memphis, Southern Miss and Texas Christian. The Cardinals got just two first place votes but topped the poll with 106 points.

Memphis received three first-place votes and was second with 101 points. Southern Miss got two first-place nods and had 100 points. TCU, which had four votes for first place, was fourth with 99 points.

One would suspect that ECU coach John Thompson was one of those favoring the Golden Eagles.

"Southern Miss has won this thing more than anybody else (1996, 1997, 1999, 2003)," Thompson said. "They've got everything in place from the standpoint of coaches, players and tradition. Memphis is good, too, but Southern Miss is the reigning champions."

Dustin Almond struggled at quarterback in a 3-3 start last season, completing just 39.1 percent of his passes in those six games. Almond warmed up to connect on 53.5 percent the second half of the season as the Golden Eagles won six of their last seven.

"We don't care where we're picked," said Butler, Bower's top assistant. "Our expectation is that we're going to win it every year."

The schedule doesn't appear to favor Southern Miss, which goes to Memphis (Fri., Nov. 12) and TCU (Nov. 20). Louisville isn't on the Golden Eagles' schedule for the second straight season.

Thompson said C-USA is more talented and balanced now than when he was an assistant in the league from 1996 to 1999 at Southern Miss and Memphis.

Logan reenlists with Army

Former ECU coach Steve Logan will continue his work as a color commentator on Army telecasts during the 2004 season. Logan, who added an NFL Europe championship to his resume this spring as quarterbacks coach of the Berlin Thunder, will again work with veteran Cadets play-by-play announcer Bob Stevens and sideline reporter Kevin Connors, according to an Army release.

The Army regional network will show Army's home games with Louisville on Sept. 11, TCU on Oct. 2, Cincinnati on Oct. 9 and Air Force on Nov. 6.

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