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Don't miss Al Myatt's profile of ECU Chancellor Steven Ballard in the 2004 Bonesville Magazine.

View from the East
Friday, December 17, 2004

By Al Myatt

J.T. reflects after seizing fresh start

Bonesville Magazine

• PAT DYE: Short on Tenure, Long on Impact

• Recruit Profiles
• Rookie Books
• Tracking the Classes
• Florida Pipeline
• NCHSAA & ECU: Smooth Sailing Again


• STEVE BALLARD: New Leader Takes Charge

• SCOTT COWEN: Busting Down the Door

• KEITH LECLAIR on ECU's Field of Dreams

• BETH GRANT: Actress Still a Pirate


It didn't take John Thompson long to get back in the saddle, with South Carolina announcing on Thursday that the recently-deposed East Carolina coach would be joining Steve Spurrier's new staff as defensive coordinator.

Thompson shared some thoughts about his days at ECU with some of the candor associated with his new boss, but he's thankful, too, to be able to get a major position of responsibility in one of the nation's premier conferences.

"I know I'm real fortunate to get this opportunity, that's for sure," Thompson said.

Spurrier voiced pleasure with J.T.'s hiring in a USC release.

"John Thompson is an experienced defensive coordinator who I probably should have hired three weeks ago," Spurrier said. "The best guy is usually the one that wants to come the most and John really wants to be at South Carolina.

"He is an enthusiastic, upbeat individual. His defenses like to come after people. We will blitz and blitz intelligently. He will be in control of the defense and will coach the linebackers."

Thompson was defensive coordinator at Florida for a season after Spurrier's departure to the Washington Redskins. J.T. arrived at ECU in December of 2002 to take over a program that had gone 4-8 the previous season. He had also worked as defensive coordinator at Arkansas, Southern Miss and Memphis in nearly a quarter of a century in football coaching.

"I'll feel real good about it when the rest of the staff lands somewhere and I know everybody will in time," Thompson said.

Former ECU offensive line coach Robert McFarland has accepted the head coaching position at Divisionn I-AA Stephen F. Austin in Texas. Noah Brindise, ECU's offensive coordinator in 2004, has become offensive coordinator at Nevada-Las Vegas.

The rest of Thomspon's staff are hunting and hoping for positions. That's the part that tempers J.T.'s excitement about becoming a Gamecock.

"It's a mess how this business forgets about everybody." said Thompson, whose teams struggled to a 3-20 mark in his two seasons at the Pirate helm. "They come here thinking they'll get a fair shake."

Thompson never got a chance to develop his players into fourth or fifth-year performers, normally the grace period in college coaching. He was hired by former chancellor William Muse, who subsequently resigned, and athletic director Mike Hamrick, who departed for UNLV in August of 2003.

Thompson coached much of his time at ECU with an interim chancellor and interim AD in charge. Ironically perhaps, he was on the task force that brought new AD Terry Holland to ECU. With football attendance dwindling and support for the Pirate Club waning, Holland and chancellor Steve Ballard decided to make a coaching change on Nov. 15.

"When you hash everything out, we didn't win enough games and we didn't get enough time," Thompson said. "The people that get forgotten are the players, the coaching staff and their families. There are real people who get tossed around and tossed out.

"What people need to realize is that it's still going to take some time. There's a reason the job was open when I got it and there are reasons that it was open when Skip (Holtz) took it."

Thompson said he's not bitter.

"People here have been kind and Greenville is a great place," he said. "It's not my place to hold any grudges. I am mad about some things and how people were treated. I'm talking about players, coaches and their families."

Thompson said in a conference with Holland and senior associate AD Nick Floyd in which he was informed of his dismissal on Nov. 16, he asked how many teams ECU had lost to with lesser talent. He said he was told by Floyd, "None."

Still, without the support of an administrator who hired him and a bleak revenue picture produced by the program's dismal performance, Thompson was shown the door.

Perhaps J.T. will get to spend more time under less pressure with his beloved family in Columbia. In that case, the events of the last month could be a personal blessing. Thompson confided he had a lot of sleepless nights in his first year at ECU because he was trying to do too many things.

"Last year I worried about everything, right down to the carpet in the locker room," Thompson said.

The scope of Thompson's attention was so wide that it kept him from focusing properly on his team at the outset of his brief span at ECU.

"That first spring we really didn't realize how deficient we were in some areas," he said.

A 40-3 loss at Cincinnati to open the 2003 season exposed ECU's deficiencies on national television.

But Thompson resolved to focus on football this past season and delivered on a preseason promise that the Pirates would be better.

"I don't know how much better or how much the improvement will show in the record," Thompson said in August.

ECU did get better — from 1-11 in 2003 to 2-9 in 2004. But it wasn't enough to maintain his position as a leader of the Pirate Nation. He worked hard for two years and handled his departure with a high degree of class.

"We've even talked with players about adjusting to the new staff," he said. "I'll tell you that we didn't get that luxury."

That lack of transitional cooperation could be attributed to the fact that Steve Logan, Thompson's predecessor at ECU, was banned from the campus, including the athletics complex, by a stipulation in the dismissal contract presented to Logan by Hamrick, a provision that was voided by the university a few months after the exits of Hamrick and Muse.

Thompson said he has since realized that when Muse resigned in September of his first season with the Pirates, his days at ECU were numbered.

"That was the beginning of the end although I did everything I could to convince myself otherwise," Thompson said.

But there are new challenges on J.T.'s horizon. Holland and university attorney Ben Irons deserve credit for structuring Thompson's buyout in a manner that encouraged him to return to coaching.

Thompson will get $100,000 annually from ECU for the three years remaining on his contract, plus his salary at USC. He would have made $150,000 annually from ECU had he not taken another job.

At South Carolina, he joins forces with Spurrier, whom Thompson once considered his toughest adversary.

"When we hired Noah (Brindise, former Spurrier player and assistant coach), I said 'Steve Spurrier was the toughest coach I'd ever gone against in terms of preparing for or trying to anticipate what he was going to do,' " Thompson said. "Now I'll be on the same sideline. What a thrill that will be to work with him. Hopefully we can get the ball back for him and he can do something with it.

"South Carolina is a great place but like any place else you've got to win games. It's a shame to say it, but that's what it comes down to and that's all it comes down to."


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02/23/2007 12:47:04 AM

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