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From the Anchor Desk
Tuesday, December 5, 2006
By Brian Bailey

Let's go bowling!

It's time for the focus to shift from coaching speculation to making a loud statement to the Bowl and the Big East about East Carolina.

By Brian Bailey
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It’s official.

The Pirates will match up with the University of South Florida in the first-ever Bowl on Dec. 23.

For years, Birmingham hosted the All-American Bowl. Now, those folks are back in the bowl business with Papa John’s Pizza as a sponsor.

The entire administration at ECU is thrilled to be playing against a BCS school in a bowl game.

"We are certainly looking forward to having the opportunity and challenge of playing an opponent the caliber of USF," ECU head coach Skip Holtz said. "We have great respect for their program, especially the way they compete at a high level in a BCS conference like the Big East.

"This match up will also present us with another chance to see how far we have progressed as a program in two years."

Obviously, someone likes the way the program has progressed. Holtz spent part of last week in some type of discussions with the University of Cincinnati about the school's football coaching vacancy.

So, instead of the community buzzing about a bowl trip in a couple of weeks, the mood turned somber as the threat of losing the popular second-year coach loomed.

I don’t know for a fact that Holtz was ever serious about making a move to Ohio. I do know, though, that this won’t be the last time a BCS school comes calling.

It’s simply all about money. I sometimes wonder about those who would rip a coach for listening to an offer.

Take a second to think about how you would react if you got a call about another job. If someone offered you two or three times your current salary, what would you do?

BCS schools simply have more money. This wasn’t the same Cincinnati program that took an annual “Pirate whipping” several years ago. This team is riding its BCS membership and taking advantage of the windfall with better facilities and more money in the salary pool.

Somehow, the powers that be at East Carolina have to figure out a way to keep Skip Holtz and this current coaching staff. It has been a marvelous two-year turnaround. But, as Holtz has said, the work is far from done.

“My commitment is to East Carolina University, our program and, at this point, our upcoming bowl game,” Holtz stated in response to a Cincinnati newspaper story that mentioned him as a leading candidate for the Bearcats job. “I have not sought, nor am I seeking any other coaching position at this time. I’m happy with the progress we’ve made here but we still have a lot of work to do. If anything, their interest is a compliment to our program, players and coaching staff. I think Cincinnati has a bright future with the leadership that is in place and I wish them the best.”

The day after Holtz issued that statement, the stress level in Greenville subsided when Cincinnati announced it would hire Central Michigan coach Brian Kelly.

ECU Athletic Director Terry Holland has his work cut out for him in trying to hold on to Holtz. But even Holland knows that East Carolina can’t compete with some of the money that BCS schools can throw at a potential coach.

Holland upped the ante with his scheduling deals, and Holtz delivered a winner this season. Next year’s slate is also void of cupcakes, and the Pirates will face huge challenges on several fronts.

The more Holtz wins, the harder it will be to keep him.

Back to the bowl, where East Carolina will go into the game 0-3 all-time against the Bulls of USF. The last time these two hooked up, USF stole one, scoring a touchdown on a pass that OBVIOUSLY hit the ground. ECU missed an extra point in overtime in the loss.

The Bulls played in their first-ever bowl last year, falling to North Carolina State 14-0 in the Meineke Car Care Bowl. The Bulls are a very young program. They started football in 1997, and then moved to Division I in 2001.

Pirate fans need to rally in buying tickets, to show the Big East that East Carolina could be a valuable addition to the league. Bowls want teams that travel, and the Pirates have a golden opportunity later this month.

Many are trying to decide if they want to make the long trip so close to Christmas.
Just last week I saw a man with two purple casts on his legs at the doctor’s office. The man smiled at me and told me he was showing his spirit, getting two purple casts for his two broken legs.

He winked and said he still might make the bowl game.

That’s the spirit of the Pirate Nation in a nutshell.


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04/21/2008 07:08:24 PM


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