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Observations and Punditry
Woody Peele

Woody's Ramblings
Friday, December 7, 2012

By Woody Peele

'Curse of the Pirate' strikes again


Been there — haven't done that
'Curse of the Pirate' strikes again
Audio: WTIB (TOT: Nutcracker)
Spied from the Crow's Nest
Web Headlines Roundup
ECU's Olympic sports juggling the future
Pirates bombard St. Andrews
On to New Orleans
Big East was ECU’s only move
Audio: Coach Ruff on Bowling & Big East
Denny O'Brien's Harris BCS Poll Ballot
Final BCS Standings
Harris, AP & USA Today Polls
Updated C-USA Bowl Schedule & TV Listings
Niners overpower East Carolina
ECU Football Schedule
ECU Basketball Schedule
Year-by-Year Recruiting

By Woody Peele
All rights reserved.

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The grass may be greener on the other side of the fence, but for football coaches who leave East Carolina, it turns out to be a graveyard.

The latest victim of what some fans might call “The Curse of the Pirate” occurred last week when South Florida put the axe to Skip Holtz, who led East Carolina to two Conference USA championships before suddenly skipping out of Greenville. Holtz and the Bulls suffered through one of the worst seasons in football this past season.

Holtz had left East Carolina to be closer to his and his wife’s families in Florida. Of course, with USF's buyout of his contract, he probably doesn’t have to worry about how to live for the next few years.

I first came to Greenville back in 1964 when Clarence Stasavich was the head coach with the Pirates. He eventually was the first coach to leave that profession that I covered, stepping off the sidelines to become ECU's fulltime athletic director, a position he held until his death.

Stas compiled a 50-27-1 record as he led the Pirates to three straight nine-win seasons and three consecutive bowl games as the school moved up from the NAIA to the NCAA ranks.

In 1970, Mike McGee was hired as the new coach, leading the Pirates to a 3-8 record in his lone year on the job. He left to take the head coaching job at his alma mater, Duke, where he posted a losing record before moving into a successful career in administration.

Sonny Randle (22-10), who had been an ECU assistant under McGee, was handed the Pirates' reigns and, after a first-year losing season, followed up with two Southern Conference championships. Bbut the Pirates were ignored by the bowls those two years.

At the end of Randle’s third year, grateful Pirate fans gave him a new car, which he promptly drove to his alma mater, Virginia. His coaching stint in Charlottesville turned into a debacle and a losing record. He later left the coaching ranks for the broadcast booth.

When Randle took off, the Pirates turned to a Georgia assistant, Pat Dye, who in six seasons posted a 48-18-1 mark. His teams won one Southern Conference title before ECU left that league for a 20-year run as an independent. He also took the Pirates to the Independence Bowl where they beat Louisiana Tech 35-13.

During his stay in Greenville, Dye was courted by a number of other schools, including N.C. State. He resigned to have a shot at the Wolfpack position. When that faded, he moved on to Wyoming, spending a year there before being hired at Auburn.

At Auburn, Dye became the only former Pirate coach to land on his feet, enjoying a successful career before retiring.

When Dye left ECU, the Pirates turned to one of their own in Ed Emory, who recorded a 26-29 record as he led the school for the next five years. After two losing seasons, Emory led the Pirates to two outstanding seasons, 7-4 and 8-3. In the latter, the three losses all came on the road in Florida. The Pirates fell to Florida State, 47-46, to Florida, 24-17, and to national champion Miami, 12-7. Despite those thrillers and an impressive season the included wins at N.C. State and Missouri, the Pirates were again ignored in the postseason.

Emory’s final team went 2-9 and he was fired after the 1984 season. He never again held a head job in college, but finished out his career as a highly successful high school coach.

Former Furman coach Art Baker was next in the Pirates’ hopes for the future. As the head man for the Paladins, Baker had been a big winner, but his four seasons at ECU were not so successful as his teams went 12-32. Despite the fact that Baker was well-liked, he also got the axe and never held another head coaching position.

The Pirates then turned to Bill Lewis as their next coach. In three seasons, Lewis’s Pirates went 21-12-1, including a 37-34 Peach bowl victory over N.C. State that capped off an 11-1 season in 1991, earning the Pirates their first Top 10 AP ranking.

Again, however, the grass on the other side of the fence beckoned and Lewis left for Georgia Tech. After one good year, things went downhill and Lewis was eventually fired. He, too, never served as a head coach again.

Steve Logan, a Lewis assistant at ECU, then began what would be the longest tenure for a head coach of the Pirates, staying 11 years before he was let go. His teams went 69-58 and six of those years were winners. Five times East Carolina went bowling under Logan.

But after going 4-8 in 2002, Logan was cut loose by the Pirates, again never holding a head coaching position in college again. In the years since, his positions have included NFL assistant and broadcast analyst.

ECU then turned to another assistant coach in John Thompson, who lasted two seasons before being fired. His 3-20 record was the worst modern mark for the Pirates. Like many of his predecessors, Thompson hasn’t held a head coaching job since then.

That brought on Skip Holtz, who had been the head coach at Connecticut and held several assistant jobs. After a 5-6 opening season, Holtz posted four straight winning seasons, taking the Pirates to bowls in each of those, twice capturing the Conference USA championship.

After the 2009 season, Holtz left for South Florida, where his 2012 team went 2-10 and he became the latest to feel the wrath of the Pirate.

Now the Pirates are led by Ruffin McNeil, an ECU graduate, who has led the team to a 19-18 mark going into next week’s New Orleans Bowl against Louisiana-Lafayette, his second bowl appearance since taking the job.

When he assumed the helm of the program that he was a part of during the Pay Dye era, McNeill vowed that he would stay at East Carolina and would not seek to climb that fateful fence. “They’ll have to fire me to get rid of me,” he said.

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12/07/2012 03:03:40 AM

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