When Skip Holtz and staff convene
later this month, they will bunker down and formulate plans for the
upcoming preseason practice and 2007 season.
The immediate focus in the planning
sessions will be on preparing for the season opener at Virginia Tech at
noon on Sept. 1. There are some new components to the staff chemistry,
which has been a program strength in the Holtz era.
Personnel has changed slightly since
ECU went 7-6 in 2006, its first winning season since 2000. The Pirates
also made their first bowl trip since 2001. Don Yanowsky left his
position as tight ends and special teams coach to join the staff at
Another opening was created when
defensive line coach Donnie Thompson
was arrested on fraud charges
regarding his ECU expense account. He was quickly dismissed by athletic
director Terry Holland.
Going forward, Holtz has filled the
voids in a manner that may make the staff even stronger.
was brought in from Iowa State
to be offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. He had worked with
Holtz at Connecticut and South Carolina for a total of 10 years.
"Given the situation that we were kind
of put into, I feel really good about the way we came out of it," said
the Pirate skipper, who is entering his third season in Greenville.
"There were two coaching changes, obviously. One with Coach Yanowsky —
we made the decision to bring Todd Fitch in to work with the
quarterbacks. He's someone that I'm very comfortable with and been
together with for a long time.
"Obviously there are a lot of coaches
on this staff who have worked with Coach Fitch. He brought a familiarity
to the staff that everybody was very comfortable with. I don't think we
missed a beat going into spring practice."
Holtz also had ties with
new defensive ends coach Vernon
Hargreaves, who was on his staff at Connecticut before becoming a
defensive assistant at national power Miami.
"We had the unfortunate situation where
we had to make a change with Coach Thompson," Holtz said. "Just turning
and looking and looking at our staff, we just said 'What do we have to
do to improve?' I felt like bringing Coach Hargreaves in here brings
someone who knows the big game environment.
"He had been at Miami for a number of
years. He's been in those big games and he understands what that level
of play is all about. At the same time, be brings a wealth of special
teams knowledge in. I think he was a very positive addition. We have a
guy who fit the needs that we have."
Finding assistant coaches, Holtz said,
involves considerations similar to recruiting.
"That's what recruiting is," he said.
"It isn't necessarily going out and finding a five-star player. It's
finding the guy who best suits where you are and what you need — from a
camaraderie standpoint on your staff and at the same time being very
Holtz said the process of a successful
transition in terms of staff personnel has been taking place.
"I feel really positive about the two
additions," said the ECU coach. "They're excellent football coaches.
I've had an opportunity to work with both of them in the past. I think
the transition to the staff — morale and chemistry — has been very
The season opener will receive
with ESPN's GameDay telecast
originating from Blacksburg, VA, prior to the national telecast on ESPN.
The Hokies return eight starters from the nation's No. 1 defense. A
tragic shooting rampage on April 16 that left 33 dead brought a great
deal of attention to the Virginia Tech campus. The last three sessions
of the Hokies' spring practice, including the spring game, were
cancelled in the aftermath of the killings.
"The situation will make it a very
emotional atmosphere, no doubt about that," Holtz said. "Having an
opportunity at South Carolina to be around — we were the first game
after 9-11. There were several things that both teams took part in to
try and honor the people from 9-11. There may be things like that. I
don't know all the details yet — this far out — but I'm sure there will
be quite a few ceremonial things that will take place.
"It will be a very emotional time, not
only for the Virginia Tech family, but for everybody that's going to be
there in that stadium, both football teams included. We're looking
forward to having the opportunity to contribute to the recognition of
the number of people that lost their lives in that terrible tragedy that
happened up there.
"At the same time, when the ball gets
put on the tee, we're going up there to play a football game."
The Pirates' 2007 schedule is stacked
with challenges. ECU returns home to face North Carolina at 6 p.m. on
Sept. 8 and opens Conference USA play the following week against
Southern Miss, which has dominated the series at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium
by a 13-2 margin. The Golden Eagles are preseason favorites in the
league race according to many forecasts.
"I think Coach (Jeff) Bower has done a
great job there," Holtz said. "Look at the job he's done, his staff and
his team. Southern Miss is year in and year out one of the competitive
teams in the league.
"When you look at a league that a year
ago we were picked dead last and we came a play away from winning the
division. The year before Central Florida was picked last and they won
the division. You're talking about a division and a league that is
extremely competitive. The difference from the top to the bottom is not
"I believe as a conference we have
the smallest margin of victory among our conference games of any
other conference in the country. It shows tremendous balance in this
league. Obviously, it would be very hard to go away from Southern
Miss and the success they've had over the years in this league."
But Holtz points out that it's not
where teams are picked to start that's important, but where they finish
"It's preseason," he said. "It's
preseason polls. Obviously, wherever they put us now is where they put
us. We have a say in where we finish up at the end. We don't have a lot
of say in where they put us at the beginning."
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