College Sports in the Carolinas
Don't miss Al Myatt's
profile of ECU Chancellor Steven Ballard in the 2004
from the East
Thursday, November 18, 2004
By Al Myatt
Formidable AD faces formidable
Listen to the archived audio of Wednesday
night's Bonesville Power Hour on WNCT-AM Talk
1070, during which John Thompson's dismissal as
East Carolina's football coach and the Pirates'
surprising basketball rout of Pepperdine in the
opening round of the BCA Invitational were prime
Press Conference Audio
Listen to the archive audio of Pirate Radio
1250's coverage of Wednesday's Press Conference
at which John Thompson announced he had agreed
to step down as East Carolina's football coach
at the end of the 2004 season:
WHERE TO BUY...
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
As a former defensive coordinator, John Thompson coached his units to go on
the field in a focused mode when the offense turned the ball over.
It's a phase of preparation called "sudden change."
Hopefully everyone affected by this week's "sudden change" in the Pirates
football program is prepared to deal with it, especially the administrators
who will select Thompson's successor.
There is negative value in denying Thompson and staff a legitimate span to
get the program turned around unless ECU can significantly upgrade with its
pending hire. The Pirates need a football coach of the same magnitude as
athletic director Terry Holland.
That means avoiding the sort of flawed search process that put Thompson at
the helm of the Pirate ship in December of 2002.
That search did not interview anyone with Division I-A coaching experience,
a mistake that Holland seems determined not to repeat. That search was led
by former chancellor Bill Muse, who would resign within a year when a series
of mismanagement issues came to light.
Muse's biggest offense may have been signing off on the recommendation of
ex-ECU athletic director Mike Hamrick to sack former coach Steve Logan.
ECU's subsequent performance has added significant luster to Logan's aura.
The previous search committee was hamstrung no more effective than its
ultimate choice has been in compiling a 3-18 career record going into
Saturday's 2 p.m. home game with Memphis.
Hamrick was lined up in the corner of N.C. State assistant Doc Holliday.
Dan Kinlaw, a vocal Hamrick adversary on the ECU board of trustees, ran a
roll block on Hamrick's guy and advocated former Pat Dye assistant Bobby
Wallace, the coach at Temple.
Hamrick successfully ignored Kinlaw's candidate.
Former ECU and Green Bay Packer player George Koonce was pushing for
Tennessee running backs coach Willie McCorvey. A contingent of early 1970s
players campaigned for their former teammate, Kirk Doll, then an assistant
Hamrick also liked Pitt defensive guru Paul Rhoads but he was deemed too
The search committee atmosphere must have been about as pleasant as the
Burr-Bowles Senate campaign. But when Thompson strode in with a power point
presentation on his laptop, Muse sat up and figured this must be the guy.
Thompson didn't just answer questions. He proposed a plan of action that
included bringing in then-Georgia Tech assistant Ted Roof as defensive
coordinator. Muse, who once hired Gerry Faust at Akron, listened intently
and liked what he heard.
Muse eventually directed Hamrick to offer Thompson the job. Hamrick
negotiated the details of the contract and brought Thompson aboard at the
bargain basement price of a $300,000 package.
Thompson was supposed to fix a program that had slumped to 4-8 in 2002 under
Logan after landing bowl berths in each of the three previous seasons. Logan
was making roughly $500,000 at the time.
The Pirates have gotten what they paid for.
Thompson didn't assemble his dream staff. His initial offensive coordinator,
Noah Brindise, ran a reverse and quickly returned to the Washington
Redskins. Thompson settled for Rick Stockstill from Clemson, whose offense
was simple and predictable, and whose questionable personnel evaluations
produced the limited talents of Desmond Robinson as quarterback.
Out of state tuition costs have soared with the influx of players from
Florida at a time the program's performance was generating financial
New chancellor Steve Ballard almost dumped ECU's mounting problems in the
lap of lower rung Oklahoma assistant AD Rick Hart. Pirate fans can be
thankful Holland emerged after Ballard reconfigured and restarted the AD
Holland's experience, connections and respected judgment are about to be put
to the test. He can sell a new coach on facilities and a promise of support
but it might be a good idea to keep recent game tapes under lock and key.
One advantage to no national television appearances this season is that the
Pirates' vast deficiencies haven't been displayed for all to see.
In Thompson's behalf, he was a victim of circumstance a coach with a dream
who couldn't work hard enough or fast enough to make it come true. Those
responsible for bringing him to ECU are now living in other time zones.
Thompson's immediate concern has been for his staff and placing them in
other jobs. Four of the assistant coaches' wives are expecting.
After graciously announcing at a news conference Wednesday that he will bow
out after the N.C. State game in Charlotte on Nov. 27 with a contract
settlement that he termed satisfactory, Thompson went to practice.
ECU quarterback James Pinkney was among those who said he felt the coach had
Remarkably, ECU's practice Wednesday afternoon was termed productive by
Thompson apparently set the schedule for the announcement of his departure
at ECU's Murphy Center, an announcement that came an hour after ECU's
basketball team opened its season with an 80-58 win over Pepperdine in
The decisive action of Ballard and Holland means that ECU's fans who were
divided on Thompson's job status can unify in support of the program for the
final two games.
Holland can make phone calls and narrow his short list. It may have former
Georgia coach Jim Donnan at the top. Wake Forest's Jim Grobe, Roof and
Navy's Paul Johnson may also be sounded out about their interest.
Holland apparently wants someone with head coaching experience. If he looks
at an assistant, it might be someone like Southern Cal offensive coordinator
Norm Chow. Perhaps Doll, now with the Denver Broncos, will re-enter the mix.
Given the likely character demands of the highly-principled Holland, those
such as Rick Neuheisel and Terry Bowden who have some blemishes on their
resumes need not waste postage in applying.
How big is Holland's task? ECU's very identity as an institution hangs in
Holland apparently has authorization to spend $750,000 annually. If that's a
starting number, one might figure ECU could go even higher for an
exceptional candidate perhaps even the $1 million plateau. The Pirates
need to think in terms of spending money to make money.
The Pirates need a healer of the fan base, a recruiter who can overcome the
disadvantages of the Bowl Championship Series system and restore ECU's ties
to its own region, a coach who can put together a quality staff, someone who
can still the complaints on the Internet chat boards and, most importantly
and very simply, someone who will win.
Winning will solve the problems facing the Pirates, but at this point ECU
may need a miracle worker more than a football coach.
If one is out there, rest assured that Holland is the man to get him to
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02/23/2007 12:46:51 AM