(Photo: ECU SID)
Greg Hudson didn't follow a traditional
career path when he
left Minnesota to become defensive coordinator
for coach Skip Holtz at East Carolina.
Hudson was recruiting in Florida for
the Golden Gophers when Holtz took the ECU job after the Pirates had
2-9 in 2004.
Minnesota had compiled a 19-8 record in
two-plus seasons with Hudson guiding the defense. The Gophers were Big
Ten, BCS and had six national championships in their gridiron history,
which dates back to the 1880's.
ECU was 3-20 over the same span in
which Hudson had been making the defensive calls at Minnesota. Hudson
seemingly left a program on the rise to jump aboard a sinking Pirate
There were, of course, extenuating
factors. Holtz and Hudson were teammates at Notre Dame. Hudson was on
Holtz's staff at Connecticut.
"To clarify the circumstances, it's
pretty plain," Hudson said. "Skip Holtz, my good friend and the
Godfather and his wife Jennifer, the Godmother of my oldest child,
Garrett, called and said, 'Come help me,' and it was a no brainer."
Actually, Coach Holtz and his wife had
already tag-teamed Hudson's wife, Kelly, about the potential move.
"She's a Southern California girl and
she had already looked at the map and saw how far Greenville was from
Emerald Isle," Hudson said.
Kelly's approval wasn't a problem. She
was ready to leave the land of snow shovels. But Hudson got a lot of
questions from coaching colleagues.
"There was a little bit of disarray in
leaving the Big Ten," he said.
But Hudson recalled the time he had
spent on the staff at Cincinnati and some road trips the Bearcats made
to play East Carolina when Cincy was in Conference USA.
"We were here when the stadium
expansion had just been completed," Hudson said. "I saw what was on the
horizon and the potential at ECU. I really made the decision fast. There
was no delay in the decision."
Hudson saw the potential to win a
championship at ECU, an outcome that seemed unlikely to him at
"At the Metrodump, which is what we
called the Metrodome, I knew the best we could be was fifth," Hudson
said. "The hockey team might have finished first."
In Minneapolis, Gopher football ranked
somewhere on the lower levels of the city's sports totem pole. It was
somewhere below the NFL Vikings, the NBA Timberwolves, the MLB Twins and
the NHL Wild.
East of Interstate 95, ECU football
reigns as king of the region. That's a distinction that Hudson enjoys.
He likes it so much that he's rejected
overtures from some BCS programs. Oklahoma State had more than casual
interest after the Pirates defused a prolific Tulsa offense to win the
C-USA championship. His name has popped up in discussions of candidates
for possible openings at South Florida and Florida State.
"I've been a freshman at Connecticut,
Cincinnati and Minnesota," he said. "But I always left my senior year."
The Pirates program has made steady
progress since Holtz and Hudson arrived. Hudson has the championship he
envisioned at ECU. He says he will wear the black onyx C-USA
championship ring the players designed with a skull and crossbones
insignia on it when he rides his Harley.
He's lingered longer at ECU. He likes
the family atmosphere surrounding the Pirate program. This will be his
fifth year and another stadium expansion — 7,000 seats — is in the
works. His defensive unit could be special this season.
Hudson invited the group at a Pirate
Club gathering in Dunn on Thursday night to attend practice as his
guests. He told an attentive audience they could even bring their
friends from other schools.
"They can even videotape on their cell
phones," Hudson said. "As long as we have Linval Joseph, Jay Ross and
C.J. Wilson up front, who cares what they know?"
Actually, that offer might be retracted
rather quickly if anyone was bold enough to take him up on it but it
shows the confidence that Hudson has developed in his defensive unit,
which led C-USA in a variety of categories last season.
The pressure the Pirates generated up
front led to three sacks and five interceptions in
a 27-24 win at Tulsa for the C-USA title.
The Golden Hurricane was held to about half of its scoring average for
the season as ECU won its first league title since capturing the
Southern Conference in 1976.
As the 2009 season opener with
Appalachian State on Sept. 5 at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium draws closer,
Hudson is doing his homework.
"You've got to look at Richmond right
away, who won the national championship and how did they get there
because usually it runs through Appy State," Hudson said. "It's going to
be a good game. Not only because of the matchup from the X's and O's but
it's going to be good for the state of North Carolina."
The two foes with strong regional
identities will be meeting for the first time since 1979.
The Pirate players have invested
heavily in building the program during the Holtz era. Hudson said they
are in position to be protective of their sweat equity.
"The attitude of the team, the thought
process that goes into the way we practice, the way we work, what we do
day to day is at a high standard and that all comes from Coach Holtz's
derivatives of how he wants things done," Hudson said." I just happen to
have more reps than some of the other coaches, so I understand it.
"We have a high standard of excellence
on how we want our players, not only to act but to look and perform, how
they carry themselves on the field and off the field. So far it's been
on an upward trend for us."
ECU has gone from
5-6 in 2005 to
7-6 in 2006 to
8-5 in 2007 to
9-5 last season.
That sinking ship that Hudson boarded
as one of Holtz's first mates in 2004 has undergone a restoration. The
Pirates have gone from dead in the water to full speed ahead.