College Sports in the Carolinas
Watch for Al Myatt's
profile of new ECU Chancellor Steven Ballard in the 2004
from the East
Friday, September 3, 2004
By Al Myatt
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PAT DYE: Short on Tenure, Long on Impact
INSIDE PIRATE FOOTBALL
Tracking the Classes
NCHSAA & ECU: Smooth Sailing Again
HIGH HOPES FOR HOOPS
New Leader Takes Charge
SCOTT COWEN: Busting Down the Door
KEITH LECLAIR on ECU's Field of Dreams
BETH GRANT: Actress Still a Pirate
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
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
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
"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
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.
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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