Dynamics beyond the sidelines
Friday, December 3, 2004
By Ron Cherubini
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• PAT DYE: Short on Tenure, Long on Impact
• INSIDE PIRATE FOOTBALL
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• NCHSAA & ECU: Smooth Sailing Again
• HIGH HOPES FOR HOOPS
• STEVE BALLARD:
New Leader Takes Charge
• SCOTT COWEN: Busting Down the Door
• KEITH LECLAIR on ECU's Field of Dreams
• BETH GRANT: Actress Still a Pirate
Do you smell that in the air around East Carolina? It’s
called big-time college football.
Athletics Director Terry Holland is a genius and this week
he showed it twice. First, on Tuesday at his press conference, and later on
Thursday, seemingly pulling the trigger on the hiring of Skip Holtz, former
head coach at Connecticut and assistant head coach at South Carolina.
In a masterstroke, Holland called that first press
conference. Think about it, a non-descript, waning, non-BCS football program
that has won just three games in its last two years of competition is
searching for a coach to replace a guy who was a virtual nobody on the
landscape of college football. Yet, Holland – almost appearing naïve –
schedules a press conference to give an update on the search process. Naïve,
because the press conference seemingly revealed nothing of great substance.
Yet, Holland’s approach spoke volumes. It came off like the guy in the bar
who just assumes that every lady is interested in him. ECU had some thing to
say, so of course a press conference should be called. Of course the nation
wants to know.
Then, in the press conference, he doesn’t name a single
name, but he goes into elaborate detail to say that he is exploring the
options from proven Division I-A coaches (aka Ron Zook and Ty Willingham) to
winners at the 1-AA level (aka Jimmye Laycock and Skip Holtz) to legends who
have been out of coaching for awhile (aka Danny Ford), and fresh from the
NFL coaches (aka Dave Wannstedt and Butch Davis).
In short, he was stating that no coach, no coach was out of
ECU's realm and that HE would consider whom ECU would hire. Quite a change
from the “What unproven, no-name coach might want to come here?” approach of
the last regime.
See, Holland knows a thing or two about big-time program
building and name branding. By calling a press conference and hinting ever
so subtly at the type of candidates being pursued, Holland created media
frenzy – one that got the interest of not only the college football
community, but also the national media. National sports media was mentioning
the ECU vacancy in the same conversation with the Florida and Notre Dame
It’s basic Marketing 101… create a buzz.
In a nice second stroke of brilliance, he got the ECU fan
base whipped up into a frenzy of discussion about football, the team, and
the future. The stink of another horrid football season has barely
dissipated and instead of the post-season winter blues setting in, there is
joy in Purpleville about football. It might be a little early to proclaim
that the fissure in the fan base from the series of Hamrick-Muse power-game
debacles has healed, but Holland’s re-ignition of football in a positive
light sure appears to be a nice salve for the pained Pirates faithful.
In the 48 hours after that press conference, the fan base
rode the emotions of hints that it would be Ron Zook from Florida, then it
was Skip Holts – son of the legend – who was the leading candidate, then it
was certainly going to be Danny Ford, of former Clemson fame. Heck, he was
offered the job, right? No wait, then ECU had approached eastern North
Carolina product Tyrone Willingham, who was hosed by Notre Dame and would
have made this writer happy to see him in Purple and Gold. If you were brave
enough to venture out onto the message boards around the country, you would
have also heard rumors it was going to be Dave Wannstedt, Butch Davis, Mike
O’Cain, and even that Steve Logan was going to return.
And even though it ultimately turned out to be Holtz – the
son – what Holland did was make ECU a positive epicenter of activity focused
on the football team.
Onto the second stroke of genius – picking Holtz.
A young, rising star with instant credibility not only in
name, but also in ability. His work at UConn and then at USC stand as good
evidence of his abilities. While at the University of Connecticut, he
nurtured a fledgling program to the point of being ready to jump to Division
I-A and the Big East. At South Carolina, when dad let him run the offense,
the Gamecocks were explosive.
Consider this. ECU has made no secret about its desire to
become a member of a Big East Conference with its BCS tie-in. In
Holtz, the Pirates get a coach that is young enough to become a legend. We
get a coach who already laid the framework for one program to go into the
Big East and has a good relationship with member schools. Once ECU is in a
BCS conference, it ceases to become a stepping-stone.
Another point, Holtz can obviously recruit. Any coach who
can recruit quality players to UConn certainly would be able to recruit at
ECU. Layer on top of that the fact that Holtz also has inroads in South
Carolina and in the Midwest via Notre Dame, and recruiting should not be an
issue. Moreover, the Holtz name is recognizable to potential recruits.
Having dad on the ticket to make a few of those “special” recruiting trips
doesn’t hurt either.
At the Tuesday press conference Holland said a lot when he
"…We are at a crossroads. I don't think there is any
question that this is an important time in our football history. There is no
question how important football is to the university and to the athletic
department. It is an important hire, a critically important hire.”
Holland, indeed, gets it.
We are, as a fan base, a very dysfunctional group – split
down the middle like the red and blue states on election night. While we all
debate which coach can unify the Pirate community, quietly, Holland
recognized that unification comes at a higher level. He and Nick Floyd – who
is obviously being groomed for the position in five years – are on the same
page. The chancellor, too, is on the same page. A unified leadership begets
success. Right under our noses, while we still debate the merits of this
hire, we have been unified. Logan can finally be filed away as the last
great coach at ECU. Thompson can be filed away as a necessary sacrifice for
the transformation of the program.
Chancellor Ballard hired his man, Terry Holland. Terry
Holland has hired his man, Skip Holtz. If you trust in Holland, you trust in
this hire. Obviously, noting the compensation package Holtz is likely to
get, there is a commitment to repairing the football program. Yes, Pirates,
even those pessimists who help balance the everything-is-wonderful crowd
should be excited about the state of the program’s future.
It will be interesting to watch how this staff is formed.
Not only will there likely be more money for assistants, Holtz’s connections
and family tree could lure some serious staffers, guys that will move on to
head coaching jobs down the road.
Holland has begun cashing in on the ample capital he has
built in the business over the decades and he is doing it for East Carolina,
a school that needed this type of leadership. What will he do for an encore?
Personally, I’m going to keeping a close eye on scheduling in the coming
years, the marketing of the program, and the return of television exposure.
The question now is this: Can we as ECU-focused
sportswriters and fans handle the big-time? Are we up for it? If you want to
be big time, you have to not only think big time, but you also have to
believe you are big time. As a community, there has never been a bigger
can-do group of people. We are used to being told, “You can’t,” and then
responding by making it happen. But, now, we are being told, “You can.”
Stroke of genius, I tell you.
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02/23/2007 02:05:48 PM