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View from the 'ville
Thursday, December 14, 2006

By Al Myatt

Holland's crystal ball was 20-20

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Coaching searches have certainly been scrutinized in the region recently with North Carolina and N.C. State replacing the leadership of their football programs during and following struggles through the 2006 season.

The Tar Heels and Wolfpack should hope that their administrators operated with the same level of perception that led to the hiring of Skip Holtz at East Carolina.

It remains to be seen if Butch Davis and Tom O'Brien have the same degree of impact that Holtz has had in two years at East Carolina. Both of ECU's 2007 in-state opponents in Greenville are coming off seasons in the range of the performance level that Holtz inherited with the Pirates.

ECU was 2-9 in 2004 prior to Holtz's arrival. UNC edged winless Duke 45-44 in John Bunting's final game to complete a 2-10 campaign. The Wolfpack finished 3-9 with a 21-16 loss to the Pirates in Chuck Amato's swan song.

ECU athletic director Terry Holland obviously saw something in Holtz that made him the pick of the litter among candidates to replace John Thompson.

Holtz's 2006 team at ECU has had a better season than practically every coach who was actively considered or even mentioned as a possibility to succeed Thompson.

Holland's job as AD was to pick the right man and he undoubtedly did.

Holland talked to William & Mary's Jimmye Laycock about the vacancy created by Thompson's dismissal in 2004. Laycock's team had 11 wins that year but the Tribe slipped to 3-8 this past season, its lowest win total since 1982.

Former Clemson and Arkansas coach Danny Ford added some intrigue to ECU's last football search as he expressed interest in the opening at ECU to his old fishing buddy Holland. Ford had a national championship at Clemson in 1981 on his resume but there were concerns about his ability to assemble a top flight coaching staff because of the amount of time he had been out of active involvement in the game.

As far as we know, old Danny is still down on the farm near Clemson. His closest association with the college game this past season was when he and his 1981 team were honored for their 25th anniversary as the Tigers had a field day in a 52-7 win over the Heels.

Former Virginia offensive coordinator Ron Prince, who was thought to be in the mix from which Holtz emerged, was 7-5 as head coach in his first season at Kansas State but he took over a program that was 5-6 in 2005 and in far better shape than the one Holtz found in Greenville.

Kansas State faces a big challenge from Rutgers in the Texas Bowl. Prince's program beat Texas but dropped its matchup with rival Kansas to close the regular season.

The wish list at ECU in early December of 2004 also included former Florida coach Ron Zook, former Georgia coach Jim Donnan, former Pitt coach Walt Harris and outgoing Notre Dame coach Tyrone Willingham.

Zook bypassed the Pirates for Illinois where he is 4-19 over two seasons. Donnan has remained safely in the television studio. Harris was ousted at Stanford after going 6-17 in two seasons, including 1-11 in 2006. Willingham, now at Washington, closed the season with losses in six of his last seven games to wind up 5-7.

Meanwhile, the guy Holland culled from Lou Holtz's last staff at South Carolina, who had been through a highly-publicized demotion from offensive coordinator by his dad, has gone 12-11 in two seasons at ECU and is getting his team ready to face South Florida in the Bowl in Birmingham on Dec. 23. The Pirates are 7-5 as they prepare to embark for Legion Field.

Perhaps it was Holland's own lengthy span in coaching that helped the ECU AD recognize the qualities in Holtz that made him the right fit for the Pirates. Thompson had been hired largely on his interview presentation and the impression it made on former ECU chancellor William Muse. Holland wisely looked beyond the interview setting.

"His interview with Nick (Floyd, Senior Associate AD) and me went well, but seeing him on campus and meeting with seniors and quarterbacks convinced us he was capable of handling all the pieces — coaching, public relations, leadership, etc. — this program needed at the time," Holland said.

Holtz has brought a winning persona into the second floor football office of the Ward Sports Medicine Building, and ECU's resurgence from 3-20 in the Thompson era has emanated from there.

"Skip honestly believes and lives the inspirational speeches he gives," Holland said. "He is very enthusiastic and keeps a positive attitude but most importantly, his enthusiasm and positive attitude are contagious. He touches people with his words and deeds."

The Purple Tide was at severe ebb when Holtz arrived. The Pirates were hobbling. Swagger was a thing of the past. Holtz has led the Pirate Nation out of a vast wasteland and helped restore the spirit of an entire region.

"The spirit of the East has returned," Holland said. " There is no doubt that every student, alumnus and resident of Eastern North Carolina has felt the electricity and heard the buzz. Even if you are not a football fan. you have to at least want to be part of the 'happening.' "

Fortunately for the Pirates, it looks as if the pied piper who produced their latest success is intent on staying following a brief courtship with Cincinnati. Holland is working on a contract package to reward Holtz for the program's progress.

Currently, Holtz is making about $425,000 annually at ECU.

Holland knows he now has a proven coach on the Division I-A level and the ECU AD also is realistic about what that means.

"Every coaching situation has its own peculiarities as to what is needed but he is someone that any AD with an opening should at least check to see if he is a 'match' for their particular job," Holland said. "We will work hard to keep him here at ECU by earning his loyalty with the way we support his program. This includes season ticket sales, fund raising and all forms of support."

One reward for Holtz and his charges is their bowl berth. The matchup with South Florida continues a short series that ended when the Bulls moved from Conference USA to the Big East.

"Our preference is to play BCS teams as often as possible and this game provides that opportunity," Holland said. "The former conference affiliation of the team is more important than its current affiliation. A former C-USA team in a BCS conference makes it a little more interesting for all involved."

Holland's selection two years ago and Holtz's job performance have certainly made bowl season interesting for Pirate fans again.

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02/23/2007 12:30:59 AM


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