GREENVILLE As Skip Holtz was leading the
celebration on Bagwell Field at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium following
a 38-32 win over Houston for the
Conference USA championship on Saturday, there was the inevitable
speculation that the triumph could be his last game as East Carolina's
File photo by
Chris Cribari for
It was the second
straight league title for ECU, an unprecedented accomplishment since
C-USA went to a championship game format in 2005.
As Holtz has directed a football
resurgence at ECU, his attractiveness as a coach to potential suitors
has increased as well. Following the league championship victory at
Tulsa last year, Holtz talked with Syracuse about its coaching vacancy.
He decided to stay at ECU prior to
a 25-19 loss to Kentucky in the
The Pirates are headed back to the
Liberty Bowl, and now Notre Dame, Holtz's alma mater, is involved in a
coaching search. The Fighting Irish have some impressive names on the
list of potential candidates. The group includes Urban Meyer of Florida,
Bob Stoops of Oklahoma, Brian Kelly of Cincinnati and former NFL coach
Jon Gruden, who is now a television analyst.
The perception of the Notre Dame job
varies. The downside is that there are great expectations amid difficult
circumstances. Accomplishments are measured against tradition, which
many feel the Fighting Irish are no longer capable of matching. Notre
Dame's high academic standards are seen as counterproductive to football
The last three coaches Bob Davie,
Tyrone Willingham and the recently-deposed Charlie Weis have only been
a little better than .500 before their coaching careers in South Bend
Holtz has not been mentioned as a
prominent candidate for the position his dad, Lou, once held. The elder
Holtz led the Irish to their last national title in 1988.
The situation at Notre Dame is not
unlike the last basketball coaching search at N.C. State from the
standpoint that the program has seen better days. The Wolfpack went
after established coaches such as former Memphis mentor John Calipari
and Texas coach Rick Barnes before settling for alumnus Sidney Lowe.
Notre Dame may not get the name at the
top of its list and as the search process continues, Holtz may become
more and more attractive, given the results he has produced at ECU.
Prospective coaches at Notre Dame may
be turned off by the high expectations at the school compared to the
reality of producing results. Stoops and Meyer aren't likely to leave
the established programs they have built. Kelly may think twice about
his chances of success at an institution where entrance requirements are
more demanding than his present situation.
Holtz said after the win over Houston
on Saturday that he hasn't been contacted about any coaching vacancies
and that he likes his job at ECU. Still, he is probably among those who
still regard the Irish program as special and he couldn't blamed for
being interested if the Irish should want to talk to him.
ECU defensive coordinator Greg Hudson
is also a former Notre Dame player. He and Holtz both have a passion for
their alma mater. Hudson likely would be a candidate for the ECU job if
Holtz were to leave. The Pirate coach might want to take Hudson with him
if the Notre Dame job did become available to him.
Hudson talked about the Notre Dame
situation this past week as the Pirates were preparing to face the
high-powered Cougars offense.
"I feel bad when any coach gets let go
in his profession because they have a family and then those nine
assistants have families," Hudson said. "But Notre Dame and their
athletic director made it very clear that we expect to win and play for
championships year in and year out. That hasn't changed since when I was
"I went through a coaching change and
the standard isn't ever going to change. There's a growing misconception
that Notre Dame can not win the national championship and that's absurd
because they will have enough talent. It's just what you do with it.
"The other thing is you've got to make
sure you've got the right coach. He can't be a fan of Notre Dame. He has
to believe in what that place is about and live it. If you don't believe
in what it's about and you don't live it, you're not going to be
Hudson was at Notre Dame when Lou Holtz
came in and began a rebuilding effort that restored the Irish's status
as a national power.
"I think the No. 1 thing that changed
with Coach Holtz coming in was the mindset and the standard that we had
as players," Hudson said. "He came in and he made you believe that you
had a responsibility to play your best football because of Notre Dame.
You felt a sense of obligation and respect for the university and how
you needed to perform.
"That went back to the standard that
was set from (former Notre Dame coaches) (Knute) Rockne to (Frank) Leahy
to (Ara) Parseghian. You have to live up to that. They kind of joke
around that you need to wake up the echoes but that's a fact. The echoes
there speak volumes. When you wake 'em up it gets loud. You better be
ready to play some football and hold up that standard."
Holtz and Hudson have certainly revived
the football tradition at ECU.
"A good coach makes his players see
what they can be, rather than what they are," Parseghian once said.
Holtz and Hudson have made the Pirates
see what they can be C-USA champions for the second straight year.
Saturday's win over Houston was a
tribute to their coaching efforts in terms of preparation and
"I was here before Coach Holtz and we
were (1-11)," said sixth-year senior quarterback Patrick Pinkney. "He's
not just a great coach but a great leader."
If there was one moment that might be
questioned Saturday in terms of coaching, it was ECU's gamble on fourth
down and one at the Houston 36 late in the game. Dominique Lindsay, who
reached the 1,000-yard rushing plateau for the season, was stopped for
Pinkney was not supposed to take the
snap in that situation. Holtz was going to try to draw the Cougars
offside and call time if Houston didn't jump. Pinkney ran the play,
which was the same call as third down.
"He said he thought we could make it,"
Holtz said. "I was going to go for it but I wasn't going to call that
Van Eskridge's interception in the end
zone with 42 seconds left kept the situation from spoiling the day for
the Pirates, who will play in a bowl game for a fourth straight year a
Holtz has broken some new ground in
restoring the ECU program's tradition. Notre Dame might figure he could
accomplish great things there as well.