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Watch for Al Myatt's profile of new ECU Chancellor Steven Ballard in the 2004 Bonesville Magazine.

View from the East
Friday, September 3, 2004

By Al Myatt

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One objective of the 7-member task force involved in the athletic director search is to find someone who wants to be at East Carolina and deal with issues relating to the program's growth.

Consultant Chuck Neinas presented a list of about a dozen candidates to the task force which discussed the prospects earlier this week.

Sources indicate four top targets have been identified and if the process is completed smoothly, an announcement could be made within two weeks.

Iowa State AD Bruce Van De Velde may be the most prestigious of the lot based on his present position. Van De Velde has overseen a program characterized by impressive graduation rates, a degree of facility improvement, improved fund-raising during his tenure and stepped up performance by its football team in the very challenging Big 12 Conference.

Like new ECU chancellor Steve Ballard, Van De Velde is an Illinois native.

Toledo AD Mike O'Brien has also made inquiries about ECU and Georgia Southern AD Sam Baker has a strong relationship with Chuck Neinas, who was retained as consultant in the second phase of the ECU search.

Neinas, incidentally, had the lowest bid among those considered for the consultant role at $32,000. Bill Carr, whose ties are in the Southeast, as opposed to Neinas' Big 12 background, bid $40,000, but his offer also included a strategic plan for the overall development of the athletic program.

The task force presumably stopped laughing long enough to reject a bid of $150,000 from a Chicago firm that was interviewed.

Ballard isn't planning to cheap out on the new AD's salary if the right person receives a consensus of support from the task force. Ballard has indicated he may nearly double the annual salary of the previous AD, Mike Hamrick, which was $180,000.
Interim AD Nick Floyd currently is being compensated at an annual rate of $250,000.

Better defense anticipated

A lot of the expected improvement in the East Carolina football program in 2004 is based on anticipated production from the new "fun 'n' gun" scheme installed by first-year offensive coordinator Noah Brindise, but the Pirates also need to get better on the defensive side of the ball.

For a number of reasons, ECU will be a better defensive team this season.

There's plenty of room for improvement for a team that allowed opponents an average of 35.7 points per game in 2003.

One reason ECU will be better defensively is that head coach John Thompson will take more of a hands-on role in his area of expertise. Thompson plans to make use of his extensive experience as a defensive coordinator at Florida, Arkansas and Southern Miss.

The football coaching offices at ECU include conference rooms for the offense and defense. Thompson plans to spend more time in the defensive room with second-year coordinator Jerry Odom and the defensive position coaches this year.

"I am in that room instead of going back and forth," Thompson said. "Last year I don't feel like I did a very good job because I was behind. I was either behind a day or behind a game. We all want to take advantage of our strengths with our players.

"I think we'll do a better job with our football team because we will take advantage of our strengths. My strength is my experience in defense and that's where I've spent my entire career so, being in that room, hopefully I can help and maybe stay ahead instead of behind. I might could have helped in some situations but I was in there too late.

"Our defense did a good job last year. Our defensive staff did a good job. We feel like we're just adding a coach to defense."

During a 1-11 season in 2003, the Pirates yielded an average of 4.8 yards per opposition rush. ECU allowed an average of 209.9 yards rushing per game. Its season-opening foe for 2004, West Virginia, totaled 361 yards on the ground in a 48-7 win in Greenville last year.

"Like the coaches say, we've improved a lot since last year," said junior Richard Koonce, the starter at bandit whose dreadlocks make him look like former Miami Dolphins running back Ricky Williams. "The main thing that Coach Thompson told us is that we have to stop the run at the defensive line and the defensive line has to set the tone for the rest of the team. ... I think a lot of players have stepped up in spring and in (preseason) camp."

Another reason ECU should be sharper defensively is that Thompson and staff were able to find some personnel to fill specific needs through recruiting. Transfers have moved into tentative starting assignments at three positions — Michael MacDonagh from Wayne State at noseguard, Jamar Flournoy from Hutchinson (Kansas) Junior College at weakside linebacker and Zachary Baker from Pima College in Arizona at free safety.

Junior defensive end Shauntae Hunt is primed after a reserve role in 2003. Junior Dashaun Stephens has moved from weakside to strongside linebacker. Sophomore Dontre Brown has been switched from nose to defensive tackle.

Junior inside linebacker Chris Moore, ECU's leading tackler last season with 148 stops, and Koonce are the only players expected to start at a position in which they were a starter going into 2003. Senior Donald Whitehead has had a solid preseason camp and is expected to start at a corner. Strong safety Kyle Chase and corner Erode Jean have worked into starting jobs after playing as true freshmen in 2003.

The learning process that took place last season translates into greater familiarity with schemes for the players and better knowledge of personnel for the coaches in 2004.

"One coach (former ECU defensive coordinator Tim Rose) who was here when I first got here told me there are losses in victories and victories in losses," Koonce said. "All those losses last year have built up some good things. A lot of players didn't really know the defense that well last year. They know it like the back of their hands now and I think that will really help us out."

Confidence is one of Thompson's cornerstones for success and Hunt, who plans to step up as a unit leader, along with Moore, said the Pirates have managed to generate a healthy self perception despite predictions that have them in or near the Conference USA basement.

"It's important what people outside the program think but most of all we've got to believe in ourselves, Hunt said. "Everybody (within the program) thinks we're a whole lot better than last year. We feel like we know the plays better than we did last year and we feel like we're more prepared than we were last year."

ECU defensive coordinator Jerry Odom said facing Brindise's imaginative scheme in scrimmage situations has served to sharpen up ECU's defensive unit.

The key on Saturday at West Virginia is obvious:

Everybody from star linebacker Moore to Odom's 6-year old son figures the Pirates must stop a Mountaineers running game that totaled 536 yards against ECU in a 37-17 win in Morgantown in 2002 and 361 yards in a 48-7 win last season in Greenville.

Injury report

Offensive lineman Joel Renaud, linebacker Mickey McCoy and receiver Demarcus Fox are questionable for the WVU game but all three may be back for the first home game on Sept. 11 with Wake Forest.

"We can't throw up our hands and say, 'Woe is me,' " said ECU coach John Thompson. "Other players have to step up."

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02/23/2007 12:46:26 AM
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