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
then-No. 8 West Virginia when
the Pirate program was pretty much at full strength in terms of
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
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
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
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
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.