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Dynamics beyond the sidelines

Monday, January 24, 2005
By Ron Cherubini
Staff Features Writer


Attention recruiting zealots: Take a powder


Five commitments so far and we are less than two weeks from national signing day.

At first glance, it looks ugly. At second glance… well, it still looks ugly. But recruiting is an interesting game in college football and before folks line up on the Green Street Bridge or start calling for Coach Skip Holtz’s head, perhaps it is time to exercise a little patience and restraint and recognize recruiting for the crapshoot it truly is.

It wasn’t long ago when fans actually had to wait until the players signed their Letters of Intent before the scrutiny began full force. But now, with the Internet and legions of prep football “experts” – and I use that term lightly – weighing in, information about who might have given a silent verbal, or a silent decommit/recommit, or a firm verbal – isn’t that an oxymoron? – is published almost daily. The result is a bunch of worked up fans popping Rolaids to deal with the apprehension conjured up from trying to out-guess a group of 17-18 year olds all the while trying to project forward the impact on the program.

At ECU, it is no different and maybe even a little more harsh. Desperate to turn around a football program that is among the nation’s worst, our need for an instant reversal of fortune may have siphoned off the last remaining drops of collective common sense we have as a fan base.

There are those who believe that Holtz’s plan to focus on eastern N.C. and surrounding areas as a hub for recruiting means that he absolutely won’t recruit beyond those boundaries. These folks are reveling in the naiveté demonstrated by fans who were too hard on former coach John Thompson’s proclivity to look to Florida first.

Then there is the camp that shares the feeling that N.C. should be our first target but is boiling mad that we have failed to ink any of the state’s top players. For this group, the thought is, what is Coach Holtz doing?

There is a third camp, however, that recognizes recruiting for what it is and is more concerned with the program in general. These are the folks that know that we will sign the best players we can, given the current climate, and trust that our coaching staff – as Pat Dye would say – will coach them into ball players.

Quick, who remembers O.J. Owens? Or Albert Hollis? Or Adam Dorion? How about Richard Johnson, Reggie Benton, Brock Edwards, and Sam Ruhne?

Still scratching your head.

These are just a few of the names of the super blue-chip Parade All-Americans, stars in the class of 2000. We are not just talking about your 4-star guys… no, these guys were among the most coveted players at their respective positions in 2000 coming out of high school. They all share a common thing: they were busts.

While it is true that these young men were listed alongside stars in that 2000 class who actually delivered on their prep pedigrees — performers like Terrell Suggs, Charles Rogers, Roy Williams, Willis McGahee, D.J. Williams and Kwame Harris — the aforementioned list of busts underscores just what a game recruiting is.

Really… 4-stars, 3-stars, 100-stars… who really gives a hoot? What I want are players who are athletic enough, smart enough, fit into the system properly, and want to be Pirates. If they are from nearby, helping to put a family’s worth of booties in Ficklen, then all the more power to them. If our coaches are as billed, then with these guys we’ll win the games we’re supposed to and win a couple we are not.

Recruiting is not a zero-sum game. Just because we don’t get that 4-star player does not necessarily me we get a player who cannot star at the Division I level. ECU doggedly pursued O.J. Owens, who opted for Tennessee. Had we gotten him, would it have been at the expense of a player like, say, Terrance Copper? Seems that in post-career judgment, we got the better end of the deal on that one as Copper is coming off a nice rookie campaign with the Cowboys and Owens is… well, who knows where Owens is?

We absolutely have no clue what Thompson’s recruits will turn out to do on the field. Maybe he recruited well, maybe not… check back in two to three years.

What we do know is that there was an unprecedented exodus of players from the program in the past two years (for various reasons, not all related to the coaching staff), that North Carolina prep coaches — at least the two dozen or so I personally spoke to over the past two seasons while conducting interviews for Bonesville Magazine — were greatly disappointed with the recruiting efforts from ECU, pointing out that North Carolina and N.C. State were regularly stopping in while the Pirates were virtually AWOL.

We know that the Thompson staff was flying without its guidance system (a chancellor and an AD) for most of its tenure, that some longtime, well-respected administrative support personnel were sent packing, that the program bid adieu to a highly-accomplished academic enforcer, and generally, that the ship that former coach Steve Logan left for Thompson was driven into the ocean floor in just 24 months.

And, for all the banter around the Pirate community about the dwindling talent level at ECU… how does one explain that four Pirates from Thompson's first hapless squad somehow made it to NFL rosters? Moreover, how does one explain how in 2003, a supposedly talentless team returned nine starters from an offense that averaged more than 30 points a game in 2002 only to achieve its lowest offensive output in program history?

Finally, it is over.

Maybe now those who are stuck on Logan can let him go, recognized as one of the finest coaches to coach at ECU. Maybe now those who felt Thompson was treated poorly can let him go, recognized as a fine man who for experiences at ECU may someday be a good head coach.

Maybe now we have closure and are in better position to trust our leadership and rally big-time behind what looks like a deeply-talented coaching staff.

Ahhh… yes. But recruiting is going horribly!

With the BCS undermining attempts by the program to recover its swagger, our recruiting expectations should not be to read the latest gossip on the top kids and bank on seeing East Carolina all over their lists.

To complain is to deny the reality of the situation. The key is indeed in recruiting, but not in pursuing all the blue chippers or the Top 30 in N.C. What incentive does the typical blue chip player truly have to attend ECU? Seriously? Would any sane father — Pirate alum or not — advise his son to turn down the hype, the media exposure, the New Years Day bowl tie-ins, and all of the prestige and opportunity that comes along with signing up to join a BCS-included team?

That leaves only a couple incentives for players to choose East Carolina in its current state. First, because they simply love ECU and want to be a Pirate; and second, because they were overlooked or underestimated and they have something to prove.

If Skip can bring in a bunch of kids that fit that profile, we’ll turn things around. And soon enough, the blue-chippers will come around.

Impossible? Some will say that it is not doable.

To those people I simply say, at ECU it has worked before and it will work again, if given time.

Dare I say it…?

I believe… again.

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02/23/2007 02:05:35 PM

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