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Henry's Highlights
Monday, September 26, 2005

By Henry Hinton

Organizational shakeup producing results


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The old saying is “there are no moral victories.” That is the proper thing to say and so Skip Holtz did after East Carolina came up just short in Morgantown on Saturday.

But let’s face it. Victories, moral or otherwise, have been rare for ECU football recently.

So this time, regardless of how you label it, it's accurate to say the Pirates took another step toward respectability in their 20-15 loss to West Virginia.

When you look at the shape of the ECU program at the end of the 2004 season, it was clear that the program was in no shape to challenge a Big East-style team. That is undoubtedly why Terry Holland felt he had to make the move on John Thompson.

It appears there is more than sideline coaching at work here. It is clear the players are finally sick and tired of being sick and tired. That is usually the necessary phenomenon that must take place before the corner can be turned. The Pirates are playing like a group of guys who feel that way.

It would have been easy to take a “Here we go again” attitude after the Wake Forest game, but this coaching staff would hear none of that. Preparations for West Virginia took place with an expectation that the Pirates could be competitive in the game. Be competitive. Winning will eventually take care of itself.

Honestly, there was not one soul who really felt ECU could actually defeat West Virginia in Morgantown. That is what makes the accomplishment of a 5-point defeat that much more important and impressive.

As the game wore on, it became obvious that the Pirate players and coaches were out to change all that. They believed they could win. The ECU defense dominated WVU in the second half. That is a tribute to that unit's will.

We should also mention the fact that the Pirates looked better conditioned than did the Mounties. A tip of the hat goes to strength and conditioning coach Mike Golden and his staff as well.

In Bonesville Magazine, we recently pointed out the similarities in what Terry Holland is accomplishing in the athletic department at ECU and other successful turnaround managers in business.

It is generally believed that an organization going downhill will continue downhill until significant changes in management and philosophy take place. East Carolina athletics might be a great case study for a future Harvard Business Review.

Holland, as CEO, has changed the mid-level managers, who in turn have brought in fresh ideas and new philosophies. But more than that, the troops (players) seem willing to follow the new leader (Skip Holtz) with a renewed attitude that is providing new results.

Its much like the famous old black and white movie starring Gregory Peck, "12 O’clock High." It’s a World War II movie that opens with the commanding officer of a bomber pilot unit that complains his group is losing the war because there are not enough men and equipment to fight the requested battles. His men are tired and taking on many casualties and losses. They simply cannot do more. He tells Washington it appears hopeless. They are asking too much of his unit.

The Pentagon steps in and looks at the situation and believes that the commander is over-identifying with his troops, a sure sign that they are leading him instead of him leading them. The troubled commander is reassigned and taken away from the troops.

Enter Peck. Peck’s character, General Frank Savage, is put in charge and proceeds to change the attitude of the troops and the philosophies of the attack. He instills pride and a desire to achieve beyond the normal standards. An instant turnaround takes place and the positive results are immediate. The unit begins defeating the Germans, which leads to victory.

Where is Gregory Peck when you need him? Perhaps General Savage would have some ideas about how to penetrate the Southern Miss defense. Then again, perhaps East Carolina’s own General Savage (Holtz) can design just that type of attack.

Well, this is no movie. But right now, Holland along with Holtz and his staff and the ECU players are in the midst of the turnaround. The results are evident.

Yes, losing close hurts. But honestly, losing to Wake by 10 and West Virginia by just 5 puts this team in a positive position to start their league run. ECU is healthy and mentally tough enough to make some noise in C-USA.

It’s true that no coach wants moral victories.

The thing about moral victories, however, is that they are much more positive and mean more to the future than moral defeats, which is what the program has had plenty of the last few years.

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04/21/2008 07:04:56 PM

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