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Dynamics beyond the sidelines

More Than a Game
Monday, April 18, 2005
By Ron Cherubini


Long-toothed staff may be last, best hope


Bonesville Info Box

Skip Holtz has assembled a battle-tested coaching staff. ECU's assistant coaches and years on the sidelines as full-time college coaches:

Donne Thompson, 30 years
   Defensive Line/Assistant Head Coach
Rick Smith, 24 years
   Defensive Backs
Steve Shankweiler, 22 years
   Offensive Line/Offensive Coordinator
Donnie Kirkpatrick, 21 years
   Wide Receivers
Greg McMahon, 20 years
   Tight Ends, Special Teams
'Rock' Roggeman, 18 years
Greg Hudson, DC, 15 years
   Def. Coordinator
Clifford Snow, 10 years
   Director of Operations
Junior Smith, 7 years
   Running Backs
Phil Petty, 0 years
   Offensive Assistant

Staff's Collective Experience: 167 years

+ Skip Holtz, 18 years experience

Grand Total of Experience: 185 years


One week into spring practice at East Carolina, new head football coach Skip Holtz looked at his offensive front and commented, "We have work to do on the offensive line… because we simply don't have a lot of experience and depth there.”

Deeper into the spring, offensive coordinator and line coach Steve Shankweiler revisited the state of the men in the trenches.

"We're probably a little further ahead than what I thought we would be at this point," he said. "I think that when we get some fundamental things ironed out, that's going to be a solid group of players. We've made a lot of progress in the 10 days (we've had at practice)."

The latter comment sounds like a coach who is seeing the progress he expects to see from a group of guys with talent.

Two years ago, we all heard a lot of comments about how great the talent was at ECU. Last year, we heard that after the first scrimmage, our line was going to be fine with our two returning 1,000 yard running backs.

There is an old adage in the journalism game that goes, 'Check your source.'

Now, I know these guys have yet to coach this team in a game, but for some reason, I feel a whole lot better about the source on this one.

It has long been held that with age comes experience and with experience comes wisdom.

And with wisdom, comes sound judgment.

Where the previous staff was obviously lacking collective experience, Holtz’s staff, by sharp contrast, is pretty darn long in the tooth. Collectively, the Pirates staff has a combined 185 years of sideline coaching. So, when I hear one of the coaches making a statement about the quality of our offensive line — or any players for that matter — I give him the benefit of the doubt.

Even greater than the combined experience, this staff, I believe, will truly be greater than the sum of its parts. Its diversity in regards to the program’s needs is astounding.

On paper, this staff is everything a Pirate fan could have dreamed of. Consider that on staff we have seven former coordinators: Holtz, Donnie Thompson, Greg Hudson, Steve Shankweiler, Steve Smith, Rock Roggeman, Donnie Kirkpatrick.

There are also the ECU ties (Thompson, Shankweiler, Junior Smith, Harold Robinson, and Mark Yellock). Then, there is a shift in prioritization within the program. Academic adherence is a now a focus again, the high school coaches in North Carolina are now back onboard, and the players in the program are embracing the new regime.

In prepping for the upcoming 2005 edition of Bonesville Magazine, I have spoken to all of the incoming new Pirates, all of whom shared some of the commentary they were hearing from the ECU players during their respective official visits. Some very common themes are emanating from the players in the program who were saying things like, “The new coaches take academics seriously;” and, “The new coaches say we are going to be hitting this spring;” and, “We love the new coaches, they work so hard.”

As ECU Hall of Famer Dr. Henry Van Sant always believed, "The speed of the leader is the speed of the pack." This bunch of old lions, under Holtz, has come to run well in front of the pack and the players in the program have picked up on it. The work ethic has been ratcheted up a notch and there is urgency once again in the program.

Then, of course, there is the “Lou” factor. One has to think that having dad in his corner won’t hurt Skip’s prospects for success. Coach Holtz freely stated that when you have a resource like his father, you pick the phone up from time to time. This may turn out to be a lifeline the Pirates benefit from every once in awhile.

One of his dad’s legendary quotes goes like this: “It is a fine thing to have ability, but the ability to discover ability in others is the true test.”

I have never been one to believe that the talent is so depleted in the program that one and two wins, respectively, was all this team could muster against moderate schedules. I believe that the ability to discover abilities in others, as Lou pointed out, was sorely lacking. Should Holtz and his staff have the judgment that is commiserate with the years this staff has put in collectively, the ECU football program may be pulling back from the abyss into which it has been staring for the past two, long, agonizing seasons.

And make no mistakes, we are at the abyss. No matter how you slice it, this season may really be the fork in the road where if we take the wrong spur, we might ride off to an end we don’t want to see. It certainly won’t be one that has a beautiful sunset. As far as reclamation projects go, the revival of he ECU program may be one of the most challenging out there given the stacked deck we face as a program: the BCS scam, the Chapel Hill-controlled media cartel, the Chapel Hill-oriented state legislature, a huge endowment gap, and a worthless conference affiliation.

Still, ECU has always controlled its own future through a methodology that is full of consternation, inspiration, and perspiration. We, the Pirate fans, are an amazing collection of diverse personalities who are either wise beyond our years or too stupid to know that we are neither wanted nor deserving of anything better than being the kid on the other side of the playground fence. We all believe we will eventually be a perennial Top-10 team, despite what the pundits say.

Those things — the right conference, a Top-10 ranking, a championship, a thriving endowment — all follow success on the field, and success on the field is best left to those who know how to do it. This staff, certainly, has that type of wisdom.

I am confident that the team that dons the Pirate colors this year will certainly know the basics — running, catching, throwing, blocking, tackling. That in itself will make East Carolina a markedly better program. Beyond that, what I believe this staff will bring, is consistency of performance. We will win the games in which we are equally or more talented then our foes and we will pick off another game or two because that is what good, experienced coaching does.

I predict a team on the field that will return a little fear into any opponent that visits Dowdy-Ficklen.

With this staff, I am convinced, the ECU program has given itself the best chance of rapid success. It’s hard to think of what lies ahead if this seasoned staff cannot turn things around in Greenville. So, with that said, I find myself believing it when our coaches say that a certain player is excelling or a unit is showing marked improvement.

These coaches like what they are seeing this spring.

So, on this one, I trust the source.

Send an e-mail message to Ron Cherubini.

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02/23/2007 02:05:42 PM

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