Twenty-seven East Carolina seniors, graduate transfers and graduating juniors were honored Saturday before their final game at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium.
That much is certain.
What is still to be decided — and of much more interest to the Pirates’ frustrated fan base — is whether the 48-20 Senior Day thrashing of Cincinnati will also be the last home game for Scottie Montgomery as ECU’s coach.
It’s a matter that probably won’t officially be resolved until after next Saturday’s season finale at Memphis. Chances are, however, that athletic director Jeff Compher has already come to his decision about what to do with his embattled second-year coach.
And it’s probably not going to make the most vocal faction of the Pirate Nation happy.
Because no matter how badly some want to see a change in the leadership of the program, it’s more likely than not that Montgomery will be back on the sideline leading ECU next Sept. 1 when it opens the 2018 season at home against N.C. A&T.
This is not an opinion meant to poke the hornet’s nest or endorse either side of what has become an emotionally charged issue. That’s for folks on the sports talk shows, message boards and social media to debate.
Rather, it’s an assessment based on the Pirates’ performances on the field and the signals Compher has been giving off during the past few weeks.
In spite of the hostility he’s encountered, including a group of fans holding up balloons spelling out the words “Fire Compher” in the stands at Dowdy-Ficklen on Saturday, he just doesn’t give the appearance of a man getting ready to fire his coach.
There have been no contrived public votes of confidence, usually a sure sign that the man currently in charge might want to start updating his resume. Instead of hovering over the program like an overbearing parent trying to keep a child on the straight-and-narrow, Compher has maintained a low profile, allowing Montgomery and his staff do their jobs without any added pressure.
And the bottom line is that they’ve done their jobs better over the past four games.
Say what you want about the quality of the competition — three of those four opponents have losing records — or any number of other mitigating circumstances. It’s an undisputed fact that the Pirates have gotten better as the season has gone along.
They’ve won two of their last four while falling just a yard short in overtime of a chance at winning a third.
Although they still rank next-to-last among 129 FBS programs in scoring defense at 42.7 points per game, they’ve reduced that number down to 30.0 over that same stretch, starting with a homecoming victory against Brigham Young on Oct. 21.
That’s a totally different trajectory from a year ago when ECU lost nine of its last 10, with the final four coming by three touchdowns or more.
As impressive as Montgomery’s pedigree might have been after serving apprenticeships as an assistant in both the NFL and under the highly-respected David Cutcliffe of Duke, it’s obvious now that he was not fully prepared for the head coaching opportunity when he was hired by Compher in December 2015.
His first two seasons were, in a sense, on-the-job training and he’s still admittedly learning.
Whether it’s football or business, it doesn’t make sense for a boss to spend that much time and effort grooming a hire only to give up on him and start the process over from scratch just as the young leader is beginning to get the hang of things.
Besides, firing Montgomery after only two seasons would be an admission that Compher made a colossal mistake by getting rid of former coach Ruffin McNeill without having a qualified successor ready to replace him. Even with his new contract extension, that would put the ECU AD directly into the line of fire — or in this case firing — himself.
Better to let it ride and see if the modest improvements made at the end of this season carry over into next. Because while Montgomery has made his share of mistakes and still has clear faults that must be addressed, he has also shown some promise.
It can be seen in the way his team has kept playing hard for him instead of quitting as others might have, and in the visible growth and improvement of, among others, quarterback Gardner Minshew, running backs Hussein Howe and Darius Pinnix, wide receiver Tajh Deans, offensive lineman John Spellacy, linebacker Aaron Ramseur, cornerback Keyshawn Canady, defensive end Kendall Futrell and linebacker Cannon Gibbs.
All of those players will be back again for at least another year with the Pirates.
Barring an unforeseen circumstance or a truly embarrassing performance Saturday against Memphis, their coach will be too.
Like it or not.
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Dab Shackelford says
Most fans believe Coach Mo should get another year. No surprise here.
Rob Ellis says
I think a coach should be given three years, except for John Thompson who was clearly incapable of being a head coach. It has been a long time since an ECU team has shown improvement late in the season. We usually start off with a bang and fizzle as the season progresses. I still don’t know how we beat State last year. Coach Montgomery has been fortunate to serve under the best coach in America who can do more with less, Coach Cutcliffe. That will always be a requirement for any ECU football coach, given our conference, our location and our pitiful basketball program. Now if you want to fire the AD, I am all in.
Mike Wilson says
Question….. What makes Coach Moe a better coach then Thompson to deserve another year? Interested in knowing…….
Mike Wilson says
richard denton says
I have thought all along that Coach Mo should have a third year. Compher should have been fired several weeks ago.
The Kidd says
I can’t understand how you guys can say ” let’s give coach Mo a 3rd year, how in the world did we beat state last year, what a great baseball coach hire, we did a great job of laying low while Ruffin gets hired which saved the Athletic Department $1.5 million” and then say we should fire the AD. May I ask WHO you have in mind to take the place of the ex NCAA Athletic Director of the Year while keeping in mind this new AD will have to make do with the lowest athletic budget in the AAC?
Who? Please tell me why you feel this way and who do you think you could get to take the job to fill his shoes? Help me here.
Mike Wilson says
I don’t understand this at all. Please explain. Fire the AD that hire coach Mo but keep Coach Mo for 1 more year. If you fire AD then you need to fire coach too. If any new AD will not keep Coach Mo as HC. Keeping coach mo will be the dumbest thing ECU can do. I have not seen any improvement or foundation being built with Mo. Now we going to right back in the same boat next year, I promise. WE will lose to NC A & T next year. Its too many coaches on the market this year. This would be the best time for ECU
Irish Spectre says
I think Coach staying is a foregone conclusion, for all of the reasons stated in this article, esp. the team’s improvement, which as noted, though, is vs. lesser opposition. Therefore, this week vs. no. 17 Memphis is a test of how significant the improvement is. ECU will be a big underdog, but can they genuinely compete? Obviously the o must continue to roll, but that MUST include a decent dose of running, mostly for clock control purposes. Who know; if the d can manage a pick or forced fumble or two, lightening could strike for the Pirates.
Any coach who can take a JC QB and get him throwing for nearly 500 yards against D1 defenses can coach offense. Coach Mo needs a top quality DC to get the D in shape and EC can win. How about Tra Brown what a performance Sat.
The trajectory of our entire athletics department is going the wrong way under Compher. I know we’ve won swimming and diving championships, and some in XC, but the case against Compher will be made by football, baseball and basketball none of which are trending in the right direction.
I tend to agree with Floyd, though I do believe we have turned the corner in Football, Lebo has brought in some of the best basketball players we’ve ever had and with a top 25 recruiting class, Coach Godwin has the baseball program ready to roll. It’s not time to make the Captain or Officers “walk the plank”. No mutiny needed on the Pirate ship, land is in sight. Go Pirates!
Must not have watched the Memphis game fire mo and compher now