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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
Thursday, February 3, 2005

By Al Myatt

Holtz works crowd with optimism, realism

©2005 Bonesville.net

It was easy to realize what athletic director Terry Holland saw in Skip Holtz as East Carolina's new football coach unveiled his first signing class at the Murphy Center on Wednesday.

Holtz worked the big room like a fresh talent at The Improv, connecting with the fan base, introducing an enthusiastic staff and presenting a harvest of 23 players that included 14 from North Carolina.

There was much more nourishment at this occasion than the ribs served up by the Pirate Club.

Holtz' more-than-qualified assistants seemed to feed off the energy of ECU supporters as they took turns with the microphone and the fans devoured the hope for the future delivered by Holtz and company like it was the last biscuit at a boarding house breakfast table.

It was a lot like a show that played at the Murphy Center just two years ago when then-coach John Thompson brought forth his first hastily-assembled recruiting class. That, of course, was followed by a 3-20 record over two seasons that led Holland to make a change.

Holtz took the mike away from the raised podium on the side that had been set up for his benefit and stood directly in front of Pirate supporters. He has presence and he has wit, traits that must run in the family.

He thanked fans for their support. Despite recent struggles, Holtz pointed out that ECU outdrew many of the teams it played last season and that was used as a selling point to recruits.

Of those who have bought in, there are three junior college players, two high school quarterbacks, some tall wide receivers, some speedy backs and some reinforcements for the secondary — a lot of personnel the Pirates badly need.

The junior college guys, including speedy back Brandon Fractious from California and kicker Robert Lee from Texas, could indeed help right away — that's why you bring in jucos, Holtz said, but he cautioned those who might be expecting a quick fix. He's here to build a program, which doesn't necessarily mean a winning season right away.

After all, dad Lou was 0-11 at South Carolina before getting it turned around. It took some time for the Holtz magic to take affect at Notre Dame, Skip's alma mater, as well.

Still, there was a sense from the new staff of restoring the Pirates to their accustomed level on the gridiron. New quarterbacks coach Phil Petty recalled being knocked down numerous times while directing the Gamecock's offense in a one-sided loss to ECU in 1999.

Offensive line coach and coordinator Steve Shankweiler, who is starting his third term at ECU, was welcomed back with a standing ovation.

"I know what it was like when we had it rolling," he said.

"This is how I remember it," said new running backs coach Junior Smith, ECU's leading career rusher, who also was warmly received.

Assistant head coach Donnie Thompson has also done a stint in Greenville and said with considerable gusto that it was great to be back.

There are some very nice resumes among the coaches — defensive coordinator Greg Olson left the same position at Minnesota — and all have obviously been attracted by Holtz with the magnetism that sold Holland and led 23 future Pirates to put their names on the dotted line on national signing day.

Football operations guru Cliff Snow said "No" to new Florida coach Urban Meyer to hitch his wagon to the Holtz star.

Holtz said incoming players were evaluated on qualities such as integrity and academics in addition to their projected abilities. The Pirates won and lost some of the initial recruiting skirmishes in the Holtz era.

"We're going to focus on the players we'll have for 44 games," he said. "Not on the ones that are going somewhere else. We'll only see them four times at the most."

Still, there isn't a player in the program at the moment who has taken a college varsity game snap.

Holtz said Patrick Pinkney, who is mending from shoulder surgery, would start at quarterback if the season began today. Redshirt freshman Davon Drew and the newcomers, Brett Clay of Concord and Rob Kass of Longwood, Fla., would also get looks. That's all provided James Pinkney doesn't regain his eligibility.

There's help expected defensively as linemen Brandon Setzer and Marcus Hand, linebacker Quinton Cotton and defensive back J.J. Millbrook resolve academic issues. Holtz is also counting on tight ends who were injured in 2004.

For the time being, John Grieco is heading up strength and conditioning. Holtz said he will name his final assistant coach — who will work with defensive backs — on Monday.

Spring practice will start March 7 and the spring game will be April 16. Practices will be closed. Scrimmages will be open.

The highlight reel of recruits set to contemporary music stopped unexpectedly but Holtz segued quickly.

"It's hard to make offensive lineman look good on highlight reels," he said. "Nobody knows who they are. If you want to rob a bank you should be an offensive lineman because nobody would recognize you."

The Pirates should hope to have lines as good as the ones Holtz was tossing out on Wednesday.

When the new coach gets his pieces in place, Holland will look like a smart man, the fans will forget about the lean years and the Pirates will be rolling again. Holtz looks like a guy who can get 'r done.

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02/23/2007 12:33:01 AM
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