It’s the foundation of every successful organization, especially in sports where the cohesion between coaches and players performing so many different roles is such an essential element to victory.
When things don’t go according to plan, the fastest way to fix the problem is for someone to be held accountable.
That’s what happened with the East Carolina football team on Sunday.
Clearly, things aren’t going as planned for the Pirates in many areas. In their two games thus far, one of which was against an FCS opponent, they’ve been outscored by a 90-34 margin and been scorched for an average of 616.5 yards per game.
Coming off a season in which they lost nine of their final 10 games and finished with their worst record since the infamous John Thompson era, it was clear something had to be done — and soon — while there’s still time left to prevent another season from circling the bowl and heading straight down the drain.
So as the CEO of his organization, coach Scottie Montgomery took the decisive step of shaking up his staff.
He relieved defensive coordinator Kenwick Thompson and replaced him with defensive line coach Robert Prunty, who was the co-defensive coordinator at Cincinnati before joining the Pirates.
Thompson, who came to Greenville with Montgomery before last season, was responsible for implementing the transition from the 3-4 alignment that produced only eight sacks in 2016 to the 4-2-5 scheme that was supposed to be a better fit for the Pirates’ personnel.
But despite the addition of two graduate transfers — defensive end Gaelin Elmore from Minnesota and safety Korrin Wiggins from Clemson — along with Auburn transfer Tim Irvin in the secondary, the new defense has been worse, not better at stopping the opposition and giving ECU a reasonable chance at winning.
Though the reassigning of Thompson to a non-coaching position within the athletic department might not solve the problem, at this point anything is worth a try.
“We made some transitions in the offseason and thought we did a good job of recruiting and putting a lot of talent on the defensive side of the ball,” Montgomery said. “The first week we got off to a slow start and really challenged everybody to get better this week in some way, in some form. And I didn’t think we necessarily got better. I thought we needed a little bit of a change in direction.”
The key element to that change, Montgomery said, is “to be more simplistic in some of the things we’re doing and help our back end and our linebackers to play better together.”
He didn’t go into specifics about what he means by “simplistic.” But clearly everything from communication and alignment to the understanding of assignments and having the right people in the right positions is on the table — because right now, the Pirates are as defenseless as the Florida coast has been to Hurricane Irma.
On opening night they helped James Madison running back Cardon Johnson look like the second coming of Walter Payton by allowing him to rush for a career-high 265 yards, including touchdown runs of 80 and 85 yards. Saturday they helped West Virginia quarterback Will Grier, a Florida retread, do his best Tom Brady imitation by throwing for 352 yards and five touchdowns in just three quarters of work.
The assignment doesn’t get any easier this week with defending ACC Coastal Division champion Virginia Tech, a team that has already beaten Grier and the Mountaineers this season, coming to Dowdy-Ficklen.
Although the hope is that Sunday’s coaching shakeup will spark at least some kind of noticeable improvement, the most realistic goal for significant change would be in time for the American Athletic Conference schedule to get into full swing.
Even then, there are other serious issues that must be addressed — not the least of which is a porous offensive line and finally settling on one quarterback to lead the team. Eventually someone may have to be held accountable for those and other shortcomings as well.
And there are only so many coordinators left to take the fall.