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Pirate Notebook No. 414
Friday, January 15, 2010

Denny O'Brien

Hiring lottery offers medley of picks

By Denny O'Brien
All Rights Reserved.

The last time East Carolina athletics director Terry Holland hired a football coach, time was a luxury. That’s hardly the case this time.

With the announcement yesterday that Skip Holtz was leaving the Pirates, Holland has a very short runway to name a replacement. Holtz’s successor will have, at most, about two weeks to assemble a staff, evaluate the ECU roster for needs, and then salvage a recruiting class before National Signing Day on February 3.

Among the list of challenges Holland faces is to identify a head coach who fans find engaging. With Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium in the process of a 7,000-seat expansion, charisma can go a long way towards helping fill the stands.

There also is the looming possibility that the Big East could be adding new members if the Big Ten expands as some are speculating.

So Holland can’t afford to misfire and have the program lose the footing that it gained under Holtz.

Though Holland has not made his wish list known — nor will he publicly — there is no shortage of names that are starting to surface. Most of those names are purely speculative at this point, though there are some that have floated their names as potential candidates through back channels.

Here is a look at some of the more popular names being discussed:

— TOMMY BOWDEN: This template has worked before: Head coaching experience. Son of a legendary coach. Offensive background. Comes from a football culture.

The major knock against Bowden was that his teams underachieved while at Clemson. Another one is that his results began to dip once Rich Rodriguez left the nest.

There is no denying that he can recruit, has familiarity with ECU, and truthfully might embrace coaching in a place where he wouldn’t face fan scrutiny on an hourly basis.

Bowden's credentials and name recognition would draw plenty of attention to ECU in the short term, and he’d likely win more than enough to keep the Pirates more than relevant over the long haul.

— DEREK DOOLEY: Since he’s a trendy name with almost any search, he’s worth discussing. The fact that he played at Virginia while Terry Holland was the head basketball coach there might make some suggest there is a strong relational tie.

Yes he’s young, charismatic, and the son of a legendary coach, Vince Dooley. But so far his record — 17-20 — is relatively unimpressive.

Even so he’s considered an up-and-comer by many in the business. Yet his unfamiliarity with the ECU terrain might not make him the best fit.

— AL GOLDEN: He won nine games at Temple. What else needs to be said about him?

If you had to rank the five toughest jobs in college football prior to Golden’s arrival, Temple makes that list. Thanks to him, the Owls are no longer an embarrassment, and that’s an accomplishment that can’t be overstated.

Golden has done it by emphasizing toughness on defense, which is exactly what ECU rode to consecutive Conference USA titles.

It’s assumed by many that he gets one of the first calls from Holland because of their UVa connection. It’s no secret that Holland has a very good rapport with Golden, and Golden in many ways meets the criteria of the type of coach that the ECU AD is said to be seeking.

— JEFF JAGODZINSKI: Like many openings of late, Jags is already floating his name out for consideration. And if he gets the nod from Holland, you'd better buckle your seatbelt and prepare for an emotional ride.

If Holland is looking for a guy who he believes will give him at least five years of service — and that is believed to be a criterion high on his list — Coach Jags will have a tough time selling himself.

He barely unpacked his boxes in Chestnut Hill before he started looking at NFL openings, even sacrificing his employment just to get an interview for a job he had no chance of landing.

Much of his success at Boston College was tied to Tom O’Brien’s recruits, Steve Logan’s offense, and Frank Spaziani’s defense. He won’t find any of those at ECU.

— MIKE LEACH: Hey, the guy is fascinated with Pirates. That’s the good news.

He also exiles his wimpy kids to old rundown sheds. That’s the bad news.

There is some definite baggage here that would be hard for Holland to overlook, and this might not be the time for him to make any move that remotely resembles a gamble. Even if he did, who’s to say that Leach would be interested, or that his style would even work at ECU?

But, hey, he’s available and has a pseudo-connection to ECU with former defensive coordinator Ruffin McNeill. If Holland were to determine that Leach isn't such a gamble, the fact remains that he's a very astute coach.

Leach seems like a stretch. OK, a really big one. If there are truly no issues with his disciplinary practices (and I don't know how you can come to that conclusion), it wouldn't hurt to ask.

— RICK STOCKSTILL: If you had to compile a list of elite recruiters in the Southeast, his name would be on it. We knew this long before he became a successful head coach. In four years at Middle Tennessee State, he has compiled a 27-23 record and a couple of bowl bids, with his best effort coming with a 10-3 finish this year topped off by a victory over Southern Miss in the New Orleans Bowl.

His team's 2009 performance is particularly worth noting in that he was dealing primarily with his own recruits.

Stockstill might be a tough sell to ECU fans because of his connection to the forgettable John Thompson era. As the offensive coordinator during Thompson’s first year, Stockstill’s offense floundered, though much of that can be attributed to the style of offense he was instructed to run.

It might take some time warming up to his name, but there is a track record of success with Stockstill, both on the recruiting trail and in the win column. He knows the terrain, could probably bring his entire staff, and you could almost guarantee ECU would receive an upgrade in talent.

Several sources are insisting that Stockstill is interested in the job. If they are right, his credentials make him worth considering.

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01/15/2010 06:44 AM

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