Pirate Time Machine No. 4
Sometimes, while taking in the impeccable execution
of a group of ten to twelve-year-old middle school football players, Sean
McConnell has to just shake his head and chuckle a little bit to
Of course, he covers his laugh, so as not to be seen
by one of his little gridders. After all, he is their coach, but to him
the scene can be a very funny one. And, as the commercial has made
famous, "those moments tend to be priceless."
Sean McConnell in action in Dowdy-Ficklen
“(The kids) get the biggest joy of things like
playing with the water or how many wristbands can they wear on one arm,”
McConnell said from his home in Long Beach, California. “They want to make sure
they look good. They just don’t quite get it yet, but that’s part of the
fun. Then there are the serious kids— such as a 12-year-old who’s ready to break
down and cry. I’ve had to call a timeout to go out there and explain to
the kids, ‘OK. We’re going to toss the ball here, and then run here,
OK?’ And, of course, they do the exact opposite. Sometimes, I just have
to throw my hands up and…laugh.”
Coach McConnell patrols the sidelines today at West
Middle School, teaching his kids, really, more about life than about
football. Sure, the Xs and Os are there, but more importantly, it’s the
connection with the kids — his kids.
It’s a connection McConnell experienced so
intensely as a college quarterback at ECU, that he redirected his life
and has never once regretted his choice.
McConnell in his days on the field as an ECU
McConnell could very well be forgotten amongst the
college quarterback lore at ECU, tucked between the greatness that was
Jeff Blake and the lost potential that was Michael Anderson. Yet, McConnell,
of the three, etched a name in just 10 starts at ECU through an
intensity, diligence, and commitment to excellence that so mirrored
quarterback-coach-turned-head-coach, Steve Logan, that if Logan were to
put on a uniform to play QB, he would be Sean McConnell.
The connections between mentor and student are well
illustrated when it comes to Coach Logan, but the one quarterback that
may very well be closest to the man in the mirror was McConnell. And
Logan’s impact on the quarterback is still very much alive today in the
32-year-old English teacher.
“When I met Coach Logan, I was
impressed — overwhelmed with how much he knew about football, life,
keeping things in perspective... the important things. In many ways, I have
Coach Logan to thank — or blame — for what I do now,” McConnell said.
“I’ve been a teacher now for nine years, but it started with a
conversation I had with Coach Logan after I blew out my knee. He said,
‘Sean, that may be the worst knee injury I have ever seen. But things
happen for a reason. You may never come back from it, but I want you to
stay around this football team and I want you to think about being a
teacher.’ From that moment on, I knew what I wanted to do. Obviously it
worked out. I came back and started as a senior and became a teacher.”
McConnell came to ECU via the Junior College route.
He was a star at Cerridos Junior College, but never saw himself as a
Division I football player.
“When ECU gave me a call and asked if I wanted to
take a visit, I had to break out the map,” he said. “I had no idea
because I was blind to the recruiting thing. At the time, I was just
going through school and when they called, I was scared to death to be
going all the way out there.”
He visited, he fell in love with the school and the
program and he went for it.
Upon arriving at ECU, his recruiter, Mark Richt,
had departed for FSU, and a young star was on the roster in Blake — and there was
“That whole experience was scary. I was from
California. I was a city guy in Greenville. I dressed a little
differently,” he said. “The guys I knew called me Cali… or Hollywood, but
(Logan) told me that Jeff was just a sophomore and I was older and that
I would have a good chance to play... So, I felt better.”
But it wasn’t until another Pirate, Joyce Stroud,
the long-time administrative assistant to the head coach, and her husband, Butch,
recognized the out-of-place West Coaster that McConnell began to feel at
“Joyce and Butch took me under their wing. They
took me in,” he said. “I still call them my mom and dad of the East
Three thousand miles from home, McConnell found
what today he still refers to as a special situation.
“I’d have to say things are pretty special at ECU,”
he said. “I know a lot of guys that have gone through schools that were
like factories. But that “we believe stuff” was real. I still carry
around a speech that Bill Lewis gave after the Pitt game – I wrote down
every word from the tape – that I keep in my wallet. Maybe other places
are that special…but I don’t think so.”
For McConnell, ECU was about finding his path in
life, a task made easier when a man he respected greatly pointed him in
the right direction with some simple words: “I want you to think about
being a teacher."
And he has never regretted. After all, it was
teaching that brought him together with his wife of over three years,
Deanna. And, it is teaching, that has given him an opportunity to
connect with kids in a truly meaningful way — like he experienced with
“For me, even though a lot of kids don’t deserve to
be out there athletically, it’s teaching those kids that school is
important, and how to respect others,” he said. “At this age, they are
just old enough to understand what being a good person is, but not old
enough to always be one. It is good to be part of that foundation.”
And his sideline persona today is very familiar.
“My coaching — very much so from the way I talk to
the way I act — is like Coach Logan. Logan is not a yeller. He is very
calm, mild-mannered, and very seldom did he lose his temper. And when he
did, it was for a good reason. He is very good at knowing when and how to
touch a player — when to put his arm around you or when to touch your
shoulder or give the high five. I try to recognize when it is time to
connect with a player.”
Today, McConnell is where he is supposed to be.
And, he credits ECU for putting him there.
“I can’t imagine being anywhere else, today,” he
said. “And East Carolina — I know it sounds cliché — but I wouldn’t
change a thing. I went out there and I was petrified, but time went by
and I developed friendships up and down the east coast. Everything I am
today is because of a decision ten years ago. I like to think… I know… I
turned out to be a pretty good person.”
good teacher, too.