Skip Holtz couldn't be considered a
Thanksgiving grinch. Even with a rival matchup with N.C. State
approaching on Saturday night in Raleigh, the East Carolina coach set up
his practice schedule to give his players time off today.
On the holiday designed to allow us to
acknowledge our blessings, Holtz said he has plenty for which to give
"I'm thankful for a lot of things, but
without a doubt you start with health and family," Holtz said. "The
three little kids we have that come up and hug my neck every day could
care less whether we won or lost.
"I'm very thankful for family and
thankful for our health, especially with my mother who has been through
five bouts of cancer. I'm thankful she has survived that."
Having a Division I-A head coaching
position at ECU is also on Holtz's list.
"I'm thankful to have the opportunity
to be at East Carolina," he said.
Having a chance for the Pirates to play
Houston for the Conference USA football championship also would be
"I'm going to be thankful if Marshall
can beat Southern Miss," Holtz said. "I'd be very, very thankful to
Coach (Mark) Snyder."
Those looking for a topic of discussion
over turkey, stuffing and pumpkin pie today might debate which is
actually the bigger game for the Pirates on Saturday, their contest with
the Wolfpack or the tilt in Hattiesburg between the Thundering Herd and
In case you've been in hibernation or
somehow removed from Planet Pirate over the last week, a Marshall win on
Saturday night means ECU wins C-USA's East Division and plays Houston at
Robertson Stadium on Friday night, Dec. 1, for the league title.
Holtz, of course, is the son of a
former N.C. State coach. His dad, Lou, guided the State program during a
successful span from 1972 to 1975. Skip was born in 1964 and has
childhood memories of that era. He also knows the significance of the
ECU-State series, which was played annually in Raleigh from 1970 to
Holtz's dad never lost to the Pirates.
"There's no doubt that this is a big
game," said the younger Holtz. "It's got an awful lot of implications
from a bragging rights standpoint, N.C. State only being an hour away.
It has implications from a recruiting standpoint, obviously, with a lot
of the in-state athletes, and it's an opportunity for us to play against
an ACC team.
"There's a lot of things that make this
an exciting game and one that's going to be very emotional. A lot of our
players played with a lot of players from N.C. State in high school.
"You could ask a lot of people around
the Greenville area and they'd tell you the rest of the season doesn't
matter. There's only one game that's really important and that's the one
we're about to play this weekend.
"When you get into the geographical
rivalry games, there's so many bragging rights involved. That makes it
very big to the fans and media from that area. This one's going to have
an awful lot riding on it."
ECU has beaten two teams — Virginia and
Southern Miss — that beat the Wolfpack, but Holtz cautioned against
reading too much into NCSU's record.
"N.C. State is a very talented team,"
said the Pirates coach. "People want to look at 'em and say, 'They're
3-8 right now,' but they went through some woes early trying to find a
quarterback. (Daniel) Evans has really stepped in and done a very nice
job for them.
"They have two of the better running
backs in the country and they have some very talented wide receivers.
They've lost football games by two points, four points, six points,
three points. Anytime you're in coaching long enough, you have those
years where it just seems like everything goes against you.
"It's certainly not a lack of talent
with them right now."
Even though State lost three first
round draft choices to the NFL from last year's defensive unit, Holtz
said that side of the ball remains impressive.
"Their linebackers are very athletic,"
Holtz said. "They move around. They're very physical. Their safeties are
big. They're a run-stopping bunch. We won't play against a better
defensive lineman than Tank Tyler."
The ECU-State game has marked the exit
for coaches in each of the last two meetings. In 1999, a 23-6 Pirates
win in Greenville was bon voyage for Mike O'Cain as the Pack's boss.
Pirates coach John Thompson had already been dismissed when State
whipped ECU 52-14 in Charlotte in 2004 in his final game.
As speculation swirls about Chuck
Amato's coaching status at NCSU, he has refused to comment on the
possibility that the game with the Pirates may be his last with the
Wolfpack. Amato, who once said playing ECU was not an equitable
competitive situation because of the difference in admission policies,
has at least avoided inflammatory statements regarding the Pirates this
"There's an awful lot of interest in
playing East Carolina — any team in this state in both directions,"
Both ECU and State have had to regroup
from disappointing losses last week. The Pack fell 23-9 to North
Carolina while the Pirates lost a chance to wrap up the C-USA East
Division at Rice last week when the Owls kicked a 40-yard field goal
with three seconds left for an 18-17 win.
"It was a painful loss because there
was so much at stake," Holtz said. "Our players had played and practiced
and conditioned to get to this point. Being picked last in the
conference, they kind of had a last to first type of mindset.
"To be that close makes it very
difficult but I give Rice an awful lot of credit. They went out and
played extremely hard."
One aspect of the Rice loss that
continues to be a sore spot for ECU was the loss of offensive tackle
Eric Graham to an injury early in the game. Graham is doubtful this week
and the Pirates are still trying to figure out how to handle his
"(Losing Graham) made it difficult to
do some things from an offensive standpoint," Holtz said.
The atmosphere at Carter-Finley Stadium
should be electric with an ESPNU television audience looking in as well.
Hopefully, both teams will be able to shake recent misfortunes and put
forth an effort worthy of the history of the series.
One team's fans will go home with
bragging rights — something they can be thankful for until the two
rivals meet again next season in Greenville.