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The Bradsher Beat
Wednesday, September 12, 2012

By Bethany Bradsher

Bethany Bradsher

Berry's roots still extend to Greenville

By Bethany Bradsher
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Packing boxes probably seems like part of the furniture to Todd Berry. Through his 29-year career as a college football coach, Berry and his wife have moved 15 times.

But even if his journey — featuring stops as varied as New York, Florida, Illinois and Nevada — has been a bit dizzying, Berry remembers his four years as East Carolina's offensive coordinator with fondness and clarity.

And now that media outlets from ESPN radio to the New York Times are pursuing Berry, he can’t help but draw parallels between his current team’s rise and the Pirate teams of the mid-90s.

Since Saturday, Berry’s University of Louisiana-Monroe Warhawks have been the toast of college football. With a 34-31 overtime upset of No. 8 Arkansas, ULM wrote that rarity — a true Cinderella story in the early season weeks when small teams are expected to take their guarantee check, lie down and accept their lopsided defeat.

Of course, Berry knew his team wouldn’t respond to the Razorbacks that way. He’s been in coaching long enough to recognize a special team that is capable of overachieving, and these Warhawks have the kind of tenacity and talent that Berry saw in the ECU teams he helped coach to two consecutive Liberty Bowls in 1994 and 1995.

“We don’t have a lot of Heisman trophy candidates on our team, but we’re not devoid of talent either,” said Berry, who left the Pirates after that second Liberty Bowl to take his first head coaching job at Illinois State. “We’re a lot like those early East Carolina teams.”

Even if they only spent four years with ECU, those were defining years for the Berry family, he said, and his children were undoubtedly shaped by that period in their lives.

Pirate ties still pull powerfully on Berry, and even down in Louisiana he has managed to keep some ECU people around him. His director of football operations is Steve Logan’s son Vince, and Robin Taylor (sports marketing) and Alex Edwards (media relations) are also ECU products.

Suddenly, the spotlight is on Berry, a 51-year-old coaching journeyman who brought Illinois State to the I-AA playoffs twice but left his head coaching stint at Army after compiling a 5-35 record in his years there.

His routine, small-town life has been disrupted in a good way, so much so that he had to stay up until 3 a.m. Monday night watching film because he spent his normal working hours talking to the media. That was also the day he received word that his team had been named the Fiesta Bowl National Team of the Week.

Berry is incredibly proud of his team for pulling out the victory that dropped Arkansas straight out of the Top 25 and inspired T-shirts that read “The Shock in Little Rock.”

But the part of the game that speaks most eloquently to his team’s character is this: The Warhawks’ national triumph came because they rallied from a 28-7 deficit.

“That says more for the future than beating a No. 8 team,” he said. “Last season we had a lot of injuries and we went through a lot of adversity together. This was kind of a culminating event for us.”

When he thinks of his Pirate years under Steve Logan, he remembers plenty of exercises in conquering adversity. He relished the chance to rise above expectations when he wore purple and gold, loved stoking the fire of a fan base in an overlooked market with an undersized football budget. Monroe reminds him of Greenville, he said, and he would love to see another spotlight-worthy moment come to his old employer.

“There are very few people in the country that can identify with some of the struggles, but the people there in Greenville have already kind of gone through it,” he said. “You can tell everybody that I’m using the same blueprint here.”

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09/11/2012 09:17 PM

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