College Sports in the Carolinas
Watch for Al Myatt's
profile of new ECU Chancellor Steven Ballard in this summer's
from the East
Monday, August 9, 2004
By Al Myatt
ECU progressing, says old foe
GOES ON SALE
PAT DYE: Short on Tenure, Long on Impact
INSIDE PIRATE FOOTBALL
Tracking the Classes
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
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
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
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
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
"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.
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
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
"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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02/23/2007 12:46:14 AM