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Read Denny O'Brien's feature on Scott Cowen's confrontation with the Bowl Championship Series in Bonesville Magazine.

Pirate Notebook No. 218
Tuesday, November 30, 2004

By Denny O'Brien
Staff Writer and Columnist

Hunt for new skipper honing in


Bonesville Magazine

• PAT DYE: Short on Tenure, Long on Impact

• Recruit Profiles
• Rookie Books
• Tracking the Classes
• Florida Pipeline
• NCHSAA & ECU: Smooth Sailing Again


• STEVE BALLARD: New Leader Takes Charge

• SCOTT COWEN: Busting Down the Door

• KEITH LECLAIR on ECU's Field of Dreams

• BETH GRANT: Actress Still a Pirate




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By now, East Carolina athletics director Terry Holland has culled the list of names from which he will choose the Pirates' next football coach down to a low single-digit number.

In fact, sources indicate the field has been narrowed to three.

Though the Pirates AD has chosen to remain quiet about the search until today, he hasn't been napping on the job. Coach Holland has worked the phones and shrunk his list to a more manageable size based on the criteria he laid out in a statement after former ECU coach John Thompson was notified that he would be dismissed.

"Our first option will be to seek a coach with a successful record at the Division I level," Holland stated at the time. "It is apparent that this is a small pool of people and 99 percent of them are under long term contracts at their current institution.

"Therefore, the pool of candidates will include coordinators at highly successful Division I-A programs and highly successful head coaches from other Divisional levels."

While it's conceivable that more names could emerge, all signs are pointing to Ron Zook, Skip Holtz, or Jimmye Laycock, each of whom meets Holland's baseline requirements.

Here's a quick look at the known candidates to date:

RON ZOOK: The outgoing Florida Gators coach wants a job and ECU has an opening. A source close to Zook said he rates the Pirates atop his wish list.

By many measures, Zook fits the mold of what Holland is seeking. He's a current Division I head coach with a winning record and has the proven ability to assemble a good staff.

Zook also is considered one of the nation's better recruiters and would be considered a big-name hire.

Zook was fired at Florida because eight isn't enough in the Sunshine State. Following the royal reign of Steve Spurrier in Gainesville, Zook was expected to maintain the torrid pace set by his predecessor, but has averaged only eight wins per year.

In fairness, the Gators' talent pool wasn't overly deep by Florida standards when Zook arrived, but he's spent the past three years replenishing it to the point of near overflow. Zook's successor will inherit a talented, veteran club that has been battle-tested in the difficult SEC East.

If there is a knock against Zook, it's that his preparation has been questioned. Though Florida has beaten its share of bullies under his watchful eye — LSU, Georgia, and Florida State come to mind — it also has faltered against the likes of Mississippi State.

A potential deal breaker is Zook's desire to coach the Gators in their upcoming bowl. A players' coach who feels an obligation to his team, Zook has made Holland aware of that desire, but the Pirates AD would prefer the next coach to be available sooner rather than later.

Even so, Zook should be considered a favorite and is well worth the money Holland is prepared to spend — and certainly worth the wait.

SKIP HOLTZ: Papa Lou demoted Holtz to quarterbacks coach because he likes control and has a different offensive mentality. The fiery father prefers a cloud of dust, whereas the son is partial to an aerial assault.

Still, Skip Holtz was very involved in the offensive preparations and called the majority of plays.

The one thing the two have in common is the knack for program building. The younger Holtz laid the foundation at UConn that led to eventual Division I-A membership, which this season netted the school's first bowl bid.

Jr. is intriguing largely because of his name. That alone should get him in the living room of potential recruits, who no doubt would be impressed with his pedigree.

But can he assemble a staff?

Finding competent coordinators is almost as important as appointing the head coach. In Holtz's case, selecting a top-notch defensive guy will be at a premium.

Thanks to Pops, Holtz has a nice-sized rolodex. Chances are, he could bring the majority of South Carolina's staff, which includes two former head coaches — Rick Minter and Ron Cooper.

If nothing else, this would be an upgrade from the previous regime, but a big step down from Zook.

JIMMYE LAYCOCK: His name is often mentioned when jobs in the Southeast open. Yet, Laycock continues to fly under the radar in Colonial Williamsburg.

Since his arrival at William & Mary in 1980, the Tribe has been one of the best programs in I-AA. The Tribe has played its share of I-A opponents down to the wire and makes regular appearances in the postseason.

His 24-year reign at William and Mary suggests he is a loyal employee. Any move Laycock makes certainly would be his last.

But given his age, odds are he would be a short-term solution. He probably also lacks the national stature to rebuild the program quickly enough to satisfy the expectations of ECU diehards before he relinquishes the reigns.

No question, Laycock is a shrewd offensive mind. His wide-open style would fit perfectly at East Carolina.

He also knows how to maximize talent, which is a necessity to survive in East Carolina's climate.

However, his age and longevity at a I-AA school could be stumbling blocks that are too big to overcome.

O'Cain MIA

One coach interested but missing from the Holland's list is former N.C. State boss Mike O'Cain. True, he might not be well-received by some in the Pirate Nation, but he is definitely qualified for the job.

Of all the mentioned candidates, O'Cain has the best knowledge of the North Carolina terrain. Having spent seven years as the N.C. State head coach, not to mention apprenticeships at ECU and UNC-Chapel Hill, O'Cain's ties to the region would immediately rebuild the in-state recruiting bridges.

Holland has placed a premium on recruiting North Carolina and locking down the Eastern part of the state. Torry and Terrence Holt, Koren Robinson, and Adrian Wilson were all in-state products that O'Cain lured to State and later placed in the NFL.

He also was known to land a player or two from out of state on occasion, including some guy named Rivers.

O'Cain didn't enjoy Chuck Amato's many amenities, but still posted a winning record in Raleigh. He didn't have the facilities, nor the blank check to hire a staff, yet assemble an impressive roster of assistants.

It's a good bet he would bring the likes of Robbie Caldwell and Brad Scott Down East.

In terms of a school ambassador, you couldn't ask for better than O'Cain. A true southern gentleman with a classy demeanor, O'Cain would never embarrass the program and wouldn't mind the glad-handing and back-slapping some ECU donors demand.

The question is whether or not the former Wolfpack boss would be welcomed by fans. The guess here is probably not — O'Cain would be a tough sell.

Send an e-mail message to Denny O'Brien.

Click here to dig into Denny O'Brien's Bonesville archives.

02/23/2007 01:57:20 AM

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