Scottie Montgomery has received more than his share of criticism during his first two seasons as East Carolina’s football coach.
After back-to-back 3-9 seasons, a high percentage of that criticism is justified.
At the same time, though, there’s at least a few things for which even Montgomery’s most vocal detractors must give him credit.
One is a realistic understanding that some things need to change in order for him to hold onto his job for longer than just next season. Another is that he’s not afraid to make those changes, especially when it comes to the Pirates’ defenseless defense.
It’s a trait he first showed two games into the 2017 season when he dispatched defensive coordinator Kenwick Thompson in favor of Robert Prunty.
When that didn’t work out, as evidenced by the 70-burger Memphis put on ECU in its season finale, Montgomery quickly turned in another direction.
And it’s a familiar one, at that.
Not only is David Blackwell a member of the Pirates family, having played at ECU before suffering a career-ending injury that steered him into the coaching profession, he’s also an accomplished defensive coordinator with a lengthy track record for success.
Only time will tell if he is, in fact, capable of cleaning up the charred remains of a defense that was torched for more points (45.0) and yards (541.7) per game than anyone else in the FBS this season. But you have to at least be encouraged about his chances.
“Everywhere he has been has always been in the top-10 or the top-five in defense,” Montgomery said of Blackwell, who has spent the past four seasons helping turn Jacksonville State into an FCS power.
“He really did a great job at Jacksonville State. I started tracking him last year when I saw some of the statistics that they were putting up and I watched him as a coach and really appreciated the way they ran to the ball with a physical and tough style of football.” (Audio: Replay Montgomery/Blackwell press conference…)
During his 51-game tenure with the Gamecocks, his units ranked first nationally among FCS programs in completion percentage defense (50.2), second in pass efficiency defense (105.5) and rushing yards allowed per carry (3.0), third in total defense (284.1 ypg) and yards per pass attempt (5.93), sixth in rushing defense (104.4 ypg), eighth in scoring defense (18.8 ppg) and ninth in sacks (133).
This season Jacksonville State was No. 3 nationally in total defense at 239.6 yards allowed per game and were No. 7 in scoring at just 15.0 points per game while recording 28 sacks on the way to a 10-2 record, its fourth straight Ohio Valley Conference championship and a spot in the FCS playoffs.
Blackwell’s other coaching stops included assignments at Illinois State, Pittsburgh, Clemson, South Florida and Fordham, a resume that includes 11 FBS bowl appearances and multiple selections as an FCS Coordinator of the Year finalist.
As impressive as those numbers are, they’re only part of the reason why Montgomery thinks Blackwell is the right man to fix ECU’s broken defense.
“While David’s credentials speak volumes about his accomplishments on the defensive side of the ball, his endearment for this program and ingrained Pirate spirit is unequivocal,” Montgomery said in a statement announcing Blackwell’s hiring. “We’re excited to welcome him home and ready to embrace a new era of relentless pursuit that uniquely ties into our past.”
It’s those ties that led Blackwell to, in his words, turn down “four or five other options at other places” — including an SEC program — to fulfill a long ago promise he made to himself and return home to Greenville.
“I left after the Liberty Bowl in 1995 and I remember walking off the field after beating Stanford and walking off the plane after getting back here and saying that, ‘This is it,’” Blackwell said at his introductory press conference last week. (Audio: Replay press conference…) “I remember saying that I will be back at this university at some point. It’s taken a long time to get back, but I am excited to be here and this is home for me.”
For all the romanticism associated with returning to ECU and helping restore it to its past glory, Blackwell’s eyes are wide open when it comes to the reality of how difficult a task that will actually be.
“I know the numbers and the stats,” he said.
The fact that he’s not intimidated by them is a good sign. But it’s only the first step in the right direction. Montgomery is likely to take several more steps this offseason in the form of additional staff changes.
They might work out for the best or maybe they won’t. Either way, you can’t criticize a guy for trying.