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The Bradsher Beat
Friday, August 3, 2007

By Bethany Bradsher

Winning 'em over in back country not easy

By Bethany Bradsher
All rights reserved.

JASPER, GA — I’m deep in the far reaches of North Georgia, working with my family at a camp with people from all over the country.

What has struck me out here, some 600 miles from Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium, is the general cluelessness about the athletic endeavors of the Pirates or even the very existence of East Carolina. My 2-year-old son’s ECU T-shirt is the solitary purple and gold item I’ve laid eyes on in three weeks.

Which is to say, the ECU Pirates are still far from a household name. I’ve had to evoke the name of either Skip Holtz’s father or a few select bowl triumphs to get even a glimmer of recognition from the people I’ve talked to here. And even then, they may have only been nodding to be polite.

I’m not trying to depress the Pirate faithful right on the cusp of football preseason. I’m simply trying to offer some perspective and a goal: to build the types of programs that capture the imaginations of sports fans with far different regional biases than our own.

That kind of recognition can happen in two ways. It can come in a brilliant, dramatic fireworks show — think George Mason basketball or Boise State football in 2006 — or it can come through years of carefully assembling, one laborious victory after another, coaches and players who earn steady respect from their competitors and the media.

Even when a program does virtually everything right for a very long time (Southern Miss football, Gonzaga basketball), they run the risk of being blinded by the light from the flavor of the day.

We’re a fickle nation when it comes to our news events and our sports bandwagons, and sometimes even if slow and steady really does win the race, our round-the-clock screen-scrolling culture awards the medal to someone flashier.

As Bonesville's Denny O’Brien reported earlier this week from New Orleans, that’s the unique burden of being a “mid-major,” and as much as Steve Logan loathed the cliché, there really is a next level for ECU, one whose entry is all but blocked by the BCS.

The BCS may be a lurking shadow, but consistent excellence could still elevate the Pirates in the next few years. And Holtz and Terry Holland are blazing a hopeful trail upward with ambitious scheduling, aggressive hiring and brick-by-brick recruiting.

They have to do their part, as do the players who carry the load of September’s daunting lineup on their backs.

But the other major catalyst in this equation is of course, the media. And as unpredictable as American press coverage is, there are a couple of promising developments on the ECU media front for this football season:

• The announcement that fans will be able to view every Pirate football game on television for the first time in eight years. Four games will be broadcast on WITN-TV, four on the new Mid-Atlantic Sports Network, three on CSTV, one on ESPN Regional and one, the home opener at Virginia Tech, on ESPN with the game also playing host to the network’s College GameDay team.

• Articulate players like senior offensive tackle Josh Coffman, who had a memorable turn on a CSTV interview from the C-USA Media Days. Despite moderate heckling from studio hosts Carter Blackburn and Brian Jones, Coffman was bright and funny during the exchange, which can be viewed at

At one point, in a discussion about the Pirates’ summer conditioning regimen, Coffman referred to the players’ new discoveries in the training room every day as strength coach Mike Golden’s “Pandora’s Box.” Golden always has some new apparatus or method for them to try, Coffman said.

At the conclusion of the segment, Blackburn said that he had to run for the dictionary to look Coffman’s Greek mythology reference. It was a brief moment that created a memorable interview and a lasting impression of Pirate players.

Now, as the pads come out of storage and playbooks earn a home on bedside tables across campus, sound bites will be less important than building blocks to another winning season and the only sure path to recognition in places like remotest Georgia.

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08/03/2007 02:36:24 AM

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