Good and bad, Donnie Thompson has had
a high profile as an assistant coach.
Many assistants toil in relative
anonymity, but Thompson abandoned his niche beneath the radar in
1993 when he was an assistant at UNC-Chapel Hill. He tackled N.C.
State assistant Ted Cain following a 35-14 Tar Heels win in Raleigh.
Any incident in the rivalry between
those teams tends to get magnified and memory of that brief
encounter has followed both men like a hungry dog.
There apparently had been some bad
blood between Thompson and Cain on the recruiting trail. Their
differences came to a head when players and coaches were supposed to
be shaking hands following the game.
Thompson apparently decided on a
physical resolution to what he perceived to be slights by Cain and
put a textbook tackle on his stunned Pack counterpart.
Thompson was suspended one game by
North Carolina as a result of the incident. He remained on the Tar
Heels' staff through 2000.
arrest this week and the news
release from the university regarding charges that he defrauded East
Carolina with fake expense receipts totaling $11,373.70 won't be
resolved by a one-game suspension.
Thompson was arrested by ECU police
on Tuesday and later released on $10,000 unsecured bond, which is a
pretty serious hit out of bounds for a college football coach.
Athletic director Terry Holland
indicated in the release that the Pirates will look elsewhere for a
defensive line coach. There will be no further comment from ECU
officials, according to the release, because it involves a police
investigation and state-employed personnel.
Thompson's biographical information
has been removed at the link to the Pirate football coaching staff
Thompson remains on salary,
according to the release, but there appears no doubt that ECU has
lost a staff member who had an influential quality with recruits in
addition to numerous recruiting contacts. His departure obviously
means building new relationships with players whom he was recruiting
and high school coaches with whom he was a familiar presence.
The defensive line also has been
much improved in its performance over the last two years and
Thompson's impact should not be underestimated there.
There probably will be some ground
lost in recruiting in the transition of bringing in a new D-Line
coach, but one reassuring aspect of the circumstances is that Pirate
coach Skip Holtz has demonstrated the ability to surround himself
with capable assistants from the get-go.
Holtz's abilities in this area were
made evident with his initial staff at ECU and his response to a
vacancy a few months ago.
The staff appeared to be
strengthened when Don Yanowsky went to Boston College as Holtz
brought his former colleague Todd Fitch aboard as offensive
coordinator. He redefined Steve Shankweiler's focus to the offensive
line in the process and assigned Phil Petty to the task of
developing more effective play from the tight ends.
Thompson was on the Pirate staff in
1987 and '88 as defensive line coach and he
returned to Greenville after
serving at Illinois from 2000 to 2004.
It is unfortunate that his
indiscretion provided ECU with a negative presence in the news.
Blurbs appeared on some national media outlets. It obviously wasn't
the kind of attention that Pirate football wants or needs.
The Holtz era has been generally
characterized by rebuilding, optimism and good decisions. It is
hoped that the reason Thompson apparently did what he did won't be a
source of further embarrassment or trouble for ECU, if indeed that
information is ever brought to public light.
The Pirates should recover a lot
quicker than Thompson. Although he is innocent until proven guilty
in the eyes of the judicial system, Holland's gavel has already
fallen. Thompson was likely making six figures at ECU and it's
doubtful that his phone will be ringing with offers that substantial
in the near future.
Still, if George O'Leary can
resurface successfully at Central Florida and Mike Price can make a
comeback at Texas-El Paso from their respective mistakes at Notre
Dame and Alabama, then some staff may enlist Thompson for the
numerous positive aspects that his track record indicates he can
bring to the table.
As for the charges he faces
regarding fabricated expenses at ECU, he can likely avoid an active
sentence by making restitution. He apparently has no history of
criminal behavior, which the courts usually view favorably in their
considerations. Thompson can likely summon a lot of character
A plea bargain, restitution and
probation appears a likely scenario. A word of caution to Thompson —
comply with probation terms. The system doesn't look favorably upon
those who get a break and then fail to honor the agreement. Ask
Meanwhile, Holtz has probably
already put the wheels in motion to put a dynamic new D-Line coach
into Thompson's old office.
This appears to be a bump in the
road for the Pirates. It shouldn't put the program in the ditch.
You can also bet that assistant
coaches across the country will be punching their calculators
overtime to make sure their expense reports are accurate.