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View from the 'ville
Thursday, December 11, 2008

By Al Myatt

Orange overtures stir Purple haze

By Al Myatt
All rights reserved.

The ascension of the East Carolina football program under the coaching leadership of Skip Holtz has become a two-edged saber.

As the ECU players and the Purple Nation were celebrating the Conference USA championship last Saturday, Holtz had strengthened his status as a desirable commodity for suffering programs — like the Pirates before his arrival following the 2004 season.

Holtz has visibly demonstrated that he can take a program at rock bottom and restore it to competiveness before his first recruiting class has even received their diplomas. He enhanced his resume this season by knocking off ACC champion Virginia Tech and then-No. 8 West Virginia when the Pirate program was pretty much at full strength in terms of personnel.

Perhaps equally impressive was the ECU coach's ability to get the team out of a midseason funk after the two-deep depth chart had been riddled with injuries and suspensions.

Those skills are currently in high demand in locales such as Syracuse and Auburn.

Holtz's potential departure for bigger bucks at a BCS conference school has taken some enjoyment off of ECU's first league championship since 1976. The Pirate Nation has bunkered down, waiting for word on whether the program's savior will take his talents elsewhere.

Syracuse in particular has looked like a strong suitor although Orange athletic director Dr. Daryl Gross, ECU AD Terry Holland and Holtz himself have managed to effectively stiff-arm the media during the interview/selection process.

The Orange have been down the same road the Pirates traveled after Steve Logan was dismissed following the 2002 season. Greg Robinson replaced former coach Paul Pasqualoni in January, 2005. Robinson was 10-37 in four seasons with a 3-26 record in the Big East.

Gross hired Robinson and can't afford another miscue in choosing his replacement without repercussions from an already-discontent and disheartened fan base.

His position brings to mind a story Homer Rice told about athletic directors. A new AD was presented two envelopes by an outgoing AD. He was told to open the first envelope if things went wrong with his first football coaching hire. He was instructed to open the second envelope if his second football hire went awry.

Things did go badly and the AD opened the first envelope. It said, "Blame everything on me and the state I left the program in before you got here."

The AD made another football hire and that didn't turn out well either. He then opened the second envelope. It said, "Prepare two envelopes for the next AD."

Obviously, Gross knows the imminent decision on Robinson's successor must be a good one.

Holtz is 44 years old and may make one or two more career moves. His dream job is Notre Dame, his alma mater, and there were reports that the Fighting Irish position might open up after Charlie Weiss lost to Syracuse 24-23 at home late in the season. Weiss has a contract through 2015 that is reportedly in the $30 to $40 million range.

Holtz's career strategy may be based on where he would be best positioned if Weiss were to get the axe, which the former New England Patriots assistant has avoided for the time being. The Irish are 6-6 with a pending trip to the Hawaii Bowl, where ECU knocked off Boise State 41-38 last season.

The courtship of Holtz and Syracuse would really be in a speculative state were it not for the illumination on the situation provided by Lou Holtz.

A weekend report by an NFL media outlet that Holtz would be announced as the new Orange coach on Monday was apparently inaccurate, or at least premature.

Lou was in New York earlier this week for his induction into the College Football Hall of Fame. Skip and wife, Jennifer, joined him for the occasion. It was there that Holtz and Gross reportedly had some discussions.

Lou, the coaching legend, has become something of an advocate for his son's career since becoming an adjunct member of the media in his position as an analyst/personality for ESPN. That's something of a contrast to the duo's days at South Carolina when the elder Holtz demoted his progeny from offensive coordinator.

Inside source Lou gave indications Wednesday that Syracuse and Holtz were not on the same page in the discussions about the Orange opening. There were additional reports citing undisclosed sources that Holtz had spurned Syracuse. Perhaps Skip will provide more insight on the situation at a news conference today in Memphis for ECU's upcoming date in the Liberty Bowl with Kentucky.

Perhaps Holtz has projected himself into the position at Syracuse and realized that it's not a good fit. Perhaps he values working for an athletic director like Holland. Maybe he realizes he has a strong nucleus returning and a great staff at ECU. Maybe be didn't inherit his dad's gypsy ways when it comes to coaching moves.

At this writing, questions about who the next ECU coach would be can wait. We don't need to speculate about who among the current staff would remain and how many commitments might be affected by Holtz's departure.

It's good that the Pirate program is successful enough that there is interest in Holtz. The Pirate Nation will remain on pins and needles until the Auburn position is filled, but as long as ECU is winning, Holtz will remain a popular candidate in the context of coaching vacancies.

Maybe the Skipper of the Pirate ship has figured out that the grass isn't as green as it may look elsewhere. Coaching ECU is a pretty good gig in itself and, yes, you can get to South Bend from Greenville.

Send a message to Al Myatt.

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12/11/2008 02:10:37 AM


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