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Game No. 13: ECU 38, Houston 32


Inside Game Day
Saturday, December 5, 2009

By Al Myatt

Will Holtz wake up the echoes?

By Al Myatt
All rights reserved.

Skip Holtz
File photo by
Chris Cribari for
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 football coach.

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 Liberty Bowl.

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 success.

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 were over.

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 there.

"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 successful there."

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 motivation.

"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 no gain.

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 same play."

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 program first.

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.

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Game No. 13: ECU 38, Houston 32

12/06/2009 03:24:03 AM


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