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The Bradsher Beat
Wednesday, December 2, 2009

By Bethany Bradsher

Coach watch takes a back seat for a week

By Bethany Bradsher
All rights reserved.

Considering that December football in Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium is about as common as a white Christmas on Ocracoke, East Carolina fans might feel the need to scour their memory for the last time they tailgated in Greenville after their Christmas tree was up.

After all, the Pirates have only played one other home game in December in the program’s 77-year history.

The last occurrence wasn’t as distant as you might think. It was only seven years ago, on Friday, Dec. 6, 2002, and if that date doesn’t ring a bell it might be because it marked the lowest point of a tough season.

The 2002 schedule had included two bye weeks for ECU, which is why the regular season extended into December. That Friday night, Cincinnati came to town to face a 4-7 Pirates team and beleaguered head coach Steve Logan, in his 11th season at the helm.

By game’s end, ECU had lost to the Bearcats 42-26 for its worst finish in nearly a decade, and Logan’s future was in peril.

By Saturday, Dec. 7, it was official: That December clash had been Steve Logan’s last game as the ECU coach.

This December, of course, is completely different. This late-season game is earned, and fans carry an air of pride and excitement as they plan tailgating menus on a day when they are usually sitting home.

But there’s still an undercurrent that ties those two December games together: Whether they admit it or not, Pirate fans wonder if this could once again be the last home game for their head coach.

Of course, if Skip Holtz leaves it will because he has coached himself into greener pastures. He is young and successful with an excellent coaching pedigree, and Pirate fans have run this drill before.

Remember the rampant speculation, last December, about whether Jennifer Holtz purchased a Syracuse-orange sweater in New York City? With Charlie Weis’s firing this week, the Irish message boards are naturally throwing Holtz’s name around, and columnist Stewart Mandel raised his name as a potential candidate for the Kansas job if Mark Mangino is fired (Kansas AD Lew Perkins was Holtz’s boss at Connecticut.)

Just as hurricane season creates a suspended state of unease, stirred up every time winds swirl in the Atlantic, late fall makes Pirate fans feel like they’re standing on shifting sand. But instead of tropical depressions, it’s coaching vacancies that create a collective pit in the stomach of the Pirate Nation.

All ECU fans want for Christmas is for every BCS head coach to stay put for once, so that the Game of Speculation, with Skip Holtz as a pawn, can be suspended temporarily.

But this is big-time college football, and it is attended by swarms of media, bloggers and message board devotees for whom speculation is next to godliness. Every day a new college turns up without a football coach, and Holtz has again won enough games to earn a place in many of those conversations.

Holtz repeatedly says all of the right things — he and his family are happy here, he hasn’t finished the task before him at East Carolina, he enjoys his job and doesn’t want another one.

“I have not called for a job, applied for a job, or looked for a job since I’ve been here,” he said this summer. “I have one. And I love the one I have. I’ve been honored to have the opportunity to talk to some different people, and it makes me realize what a special place I have. The grass isn’t always greener on the other side, and if you ever make a job decision for money you’ll never make it twice.”

Pirate fans have been here before. They have lost coaches whom they thought they couldn’t possibly win without, and they’ve lost coaches whom they wanted to personally escort out of town. Those who have been around for decades know that the program is bigger than its leadership and that it can weather even the most ineffectual coaches.

But this week, they would rather focus on the Houston Cougars, on a chilly game day and the prospect of a second consecutive Conference USA championship.

So, much is right with the Pirate football world this week. Forgive the diehard Pirate if they ignore the pundits for a few more days and just embrace their coach, who seems to love it all as much as they do.

Besides, if you look at the weather forecast sideways and hold your mouth right, you could possibly see a snowflake or two on Saturday. And if East Carolina can play football at home in the snow, pretty much anything can happen.

E-mail Bethany Bradsher

Bethany Bradsher Archives

12/02/2009 02:21 AM

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