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'Blitzing' John Thompson gets the nod

John Thompson (Photo: UF)

Bonesville staff report

East Carolina has delved into the murky waters of Gator land to welcome its next football coach aboard the Pirate ship.

John Thompson, defensive coordinator at Florida and considered by many as a darkhorse for the ECU job, will be officially presented at 11 a.m. on campus today in the Harvey banquet room of the Murphy Center.

After coaching against the Pirates for seven seasons from 1992 to 1998 as defensive coordinator at Southern Miss, Thompson moves to the helm of a program that had lost 11 of its last 15 games.

Thompson's defensive credentials will hopefully improve a unit that was 106th nationally in total defense out of 117 Division I-A teams during ECU’s 4-8 season in 2002.

Southern Miss was 5-2 against the Pirates while Thompson was in Hattiesburg, allowing ECU an average of 18.7 points in those games.

While former Pirates head coach Steve Logan was considered an offensive innovator, Thompson has been on the cutting edge on the other side of the ball. Combining aggression and the unexpected in an unorthodox scheme has been Thompson’s style.

“The thing I like about John is that he starts blitzing when he steps off the bus” said Florida coach Ron Zook.

Thompson, 47, played quarterback in high school in Forrest City, Ark., but became a defensive back in college at Central Arkansas. He’s been working with defenses throughout his coaching career, with some interesting stops — linebackers coach at Alabama in 1987, defensive coordinator at Memphis in 1999.

He was defensive coordinator at Arkansas for two seasons before joining Zook’s first staff with the Gators.

“East Carolina is getting a great football coach, but an even better person,” Zook said.

Sources indicate Thompson is a strong Christian with a good sense of humor. Although he’s only about 5-foot-9 and wears glasses, he can be tough if necessary.

“He’s laid back but he’ll get on you,” said Florida defensive lineman Marcus Oquendo-Johnson. “He will get on you.”

Thompson met Thursday afternoon with Florida players, who refer to him as J.T., to tell them he would be going to Greenville. Whether he will coach Florida (8-4) in the Outback Bowl on Jan. 1 against Michigan (9-3) has not been determined. Recruiting enters a dead period on Saturday.

Thompson’s contract at ECU may contain a clause that would void a buyout if he has an opportunity to be head coach at Arkansas or Ole Miss. For now his work is at ECU.

“John has all of the qualities you are looking for in a coach and he has an outstanding relationship with his players,” Zook said. “He is a high-energy guy who preaches an attacking style of defense that is difficult to prepare for.”

High energy was thought to be a quality valued in the search at ECU with the new coach expected to revitalize the Pirates fan base with new enthusiasm.

Who will be on his coaching staff is another important and unanswered question. Obviously, Thompson will probably be doing less hands-on coaching when he joins the Pirates. A committee of Pirates players expressed a desire this week for some carryover of the previous staff.

Thompson emerged from a pool of candidates that included LSU assistant head coach Kirk Doll, a former ECU player, and N.C. State assistant head coach Doc Holliday.

“I was notified earlier today,” Doll said Thursday evening before the Tigers practiced for a Cotton Bowl matchup with Texas on New Year’s Day. “It was handled very professionally and I would like to thank everyone who supported me. I hope East Carolina does well. It’s still my school and it’s special to me.”

A search committee also interviewed Tennessee running backs coach Woody McCorvey, Pittsburgh defensive coordinator Paul Rhoads and South Carolina defensive coordinator Charlie Strong.

It has been theorized that Thompson was a compromise candidate between key circles supporting Doll and Holliday. The decision was made by chancellor William Muse in consultation with athletics director Mike Hamrick late Wednesday night and Thompson was contacted by cell phone.

Florida was 22nd nationally in total defense in 2002, allowing 317.4 yards per game. The Gators’ scoring defense, which allowed 20.1 points per game, was 29th.

“It was fun playing for him,” Florida senior linebacker Mike Nattiel told the Orlando Sentinel. “I wish he could have stayed here a little bit longer.” Hopefully, the new coach will be bringing the fun to the Pirates and his stay with ECU will be a long and successful one.

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02/23/2007 11:29 AM

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