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Henry's Highlights
Monday, August 22, 2005

By Henry Hinton

Big resurgence not out of the question

©2005 Bonesville.net

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A team seemingly unable to win. A fan base in need of rejuvenation. A coaching change made in an effort to change the tide. The result? An 8-5 season, a bowl bid and the new man is named Coach of the Year.

A 2005 Pirate fantasy? Nope. It actually happened…. at Tulsa.

The 2002 Tulsa team had managed just one win. After a futile decade the university’s front office pulled the trigger and brought in Steve Kragthorpe, the quarterbacks coach of the Buffalo Bills. In his first season the new Golden Hurricanes coach did what most consider darn near impossible.

His 2003 team increased the number of wins by 7. Kragthorpe led Tulsa to a 6-2 second place record in the Western Athletic Conference and an appearance in the Humanitarian Bowl. The 8-5 record was the biggest turnaround in Division 1 that year.

Of course, it would be unfair to tell that story and not relate the fact that the subsequent season, last year, Tulsa fell back to a 4-8 record. However, two of the losses were in overtime and a third came on a last-second field goal from then No. 18 Boise State.

Get the correlation to East Carolina? The Pirates will get an up close look at what a real turnaround program looks and feels like when they play the Golden Hurricanes as one of the new members of Conference USA on November 12.

Kragthorpe and his program can be the perfect model for what Skip Holtz and company are trying to accomplish — a program competing in the shadows of more name brand football teams and turning things around despite the odds brought on by recent losing seasons.

With a renewed team effort (the team being everyone involved — fans included), it can happen. East Carolina can be the turnaround program of 2005 if things continue to fall into place.

Being around Greenville, there is a renewed sense of excitement not felt in recent years. The hiring of Terry Holland and Skip Holtz have Pirate fans believing ECU can be another success story.

If you asked Holtz, he would most likely tell you he would love to be the Tulsa of 2005.

By the way, Kragthorpe was just rewarded with a new six-year contract.

Preseason camp or Bizarro World?

After a weekend with my brain in neutral, I was surprised to read the ECU Media Relations Office's assessment of the Pirates’ second scrimmage of the year in my email.

In fact, I read the headline twice just to make sure my cerebellum had fully engaged. It said:

DEFENSE HOLDS UPPER HAND IN SECOND ECU SCRIMMAGE

Reading down the page, I found quotes from Coach Holtz including this little gem: “I keep telling people that we are going to be solid on defense, and if we can build on today's performance, we will be in good shape."

Wait a minute. Does Holtz know that last year this defense gave up 39.9 points and 457 yards per game?

Must be something about the new practice facilities. Everything is new at ECU. Now the Pirates even play defense.

Of course, the release from ECU also cites the head coach's concerns about the way his offense played.

"We really looked flat out there offensively," Holtz said. "There was no enthusiasm and we missed some easy assignments and our handoff exchanges were just not there. On a positive note, the offensive line looked real solid and that was encouraging."

The fact that defensive coordinator Greg Hudson and his staff have “coached them up” on the defensive side of the ball to a mentionable level at this stage is extremely encouraging. During Saturday’s 100-play scrimmage the defense allowed 384 yards, considerably less than last year’s average, and held the offense to just one score.

In addition, Pierre Parker returned an interception 27 yards for a defensive score.

Stay tuned. This is getting interesting.

QB controversy heats up in JAX

Former ECU quarterback David Garrard is sporting a new $5 million dollar contract and making the most of his playing time during the NFL pre-season.

The Jacksonville Jaguars coaching staff insists there is no quarterback controversy but Garrard has clearly outplayed starter Byron Leftwich in the first two exhibitions of the season. Garrard is not sticking to the script, which has the much higher paid Leftwich outshining the second-stringer.

While Leftwich has had trouble moving the offense, Garrard’s performance (admittedly probably not against the opponent’s number one defense) has been stellar.

Last week Garrard had a 12-19 passing evening against the Miami Dolphins. On Saturday, the former Pirate star went 4-7 against Tampa Bay and threw in a rushing touchdown to boot.

Garrard’s play has furthered an anti-Leftwich sentiment on talk radio and on the Internet with Jags fans. T-shirts with the slogan “Put Garrard In” can be seen throughout the stadium.

Jacksonville sports columnist Mike Freeman has started referring to those malcontents as the Byron Hater Nation in the Florida Times Union, the number one newspaper in town.

Garrard’s name has been thrown around the league for the last year and many expected him to be traded out of Jacksonville, but management insisted on receiving a number one draft pick for his services and there were no takers…. yet.

There have even been thoughts recently that Garrard might still be on his way elsewhere. When Rex Grossman went down with a broken ankle last weekend in Chicago, the Jacksonville media started to speculate about the Bears’ potential interest in Garrard.

Interestingly, the Bears went after another Pirate great, Jeff Blake, who was signed as a back-up.

Garrard’s day is coming, maybe sooner rather than later.

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02/23/2007 10:16:39 AM

 

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