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
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
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 PapaJohns.com 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
"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
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
"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
"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.