Step by step, the East Carolina coaching staff has undergone something of a makeover. The intent of the changes is to improve the record, which was 3-9 overall and 2-6 in the American Athletic Conference in 2017.
David Blackwell was brought aboard as linebackers coach and defensive coordinator to bolster a unit that yielded 45.0 points per game last year.
Don Mahoney is the new offensive line coach. His charge is bolstering a rushing attack that generated a paltry 107.7 yards per game on the ground last season.
With Robert Prunty becoming head coach at Hampton, former NFL performer Rodrique Wright is the new defensive line coach.
Daric Riley is the new safeties coach. Kirk Doll is the new special teams coordinator, allowing Shannon Moore to focus specifically on tight ends.
Doll was added when staffs were allowed to expand from nine to 10 members.
Doll is an ECU alumnus, playing for the Pirates as a junior college transfer in 1971 and 1972. He began his coaching career as a student assistant at Wichita State. He has served on staffs at Iowa State, Tulsa, Arizona State, Texas A&M, Notre Dame, LSU and San Jose State. He was a Denver Broncos assistant after helping LSU to a national championship for the 2003 season.
He coached at ECU from 2012 to 2015 in the same post as special teams coordinator that he returned to earlier this month.
Doll coached at Florida International in 2016.
Since his last stint at ECU, his mother Dorothy, a resident of Wichita, where Doll is in the city’s Hall of Fame, has passed away. So has his former Pirates coach, Sonny Randle.
He has also become a grandfather since he left Greenville after the 2015 season.
Doll majored in parks, recreation and administration at East Carolina. His career has been about recruiting, developing, building, preparing and winning.
He has been a credit to his alma mater wherever he has plied his trade and he is happy to be back where he played all those years ago.
“I’m excited about it,” Doll said. “I have not been there that much. I’ve been there a couple of days. We had orientation and we had one meeting. I’ve just basically been recruiting. I was there when they had the deal for the south side renovation (at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium, Jan. 11). I was there and got to see some of the people in administration and a couple of the alumni, L.B. Clayton and Jimmy Bolding. That was probably the only time I’ve been around in Greenville to see some former teammates.”
Doll was recruiting in Florence, SC, on Thursday and is scheduled to be in Myrtle Beach today.
Recruitment to ECU
Doll was a defensive tackle for the Pirates, transferring from Hutchinson Junior College in his home state of Kansas.
“My decision wasn’t really based on what it should have been,” Doll said. “The people, whether it was the players or the students, they were very receptive. I wasn’t from North Carolina. Terry Stoughton (linebacker) and I came together at the same. We were both from Kansas. We enjoyed the people. The student body seemed to be very interactive with the players and the players were interactive with the student body. It was just kind of a neat atmosphere, a neat feeling. . . . They also told me at that time . . . there’s about 7,500 girls and about 3,500 guys. I’m not real good at math, but I figured I might have a chance to get a date. . . . It was just a great time.
“I enjoyed my time and the people. Our first year wasn’t so hot. We were 4-6. The year before that, they had a losing season as well (3-8). The next year, we had the championship (Southern Conference) year. The only thing good about the 4-6 was we beat State for the first time. . . . That was so cool when we beat State (31-15). Coach [Sonny] Randle, we came back on the buses. He told the bus driver, ‘We’re driving downtown.’ He kept going around in a loop. Everybody was cheering. It was a neat experience. The next year we had a good team, a lot of good, young players. We were 9-2 and won the championship.”
Doll did some analytic work for NFL teams last year.
“What they’re doing now with these analytics, it’s all about the productivity of a person at the point of attack if you’re on defense,” Doll said. “If you’re a running back, how many yards after the hit. There’s different grading scales. I’d have about four games, which would be eight teams that I would do. I would grade those teams. It was a neat deal. A lot of people use it in the NFL. They use it for contract negotiations. They use it for fantasy football. There’s a lot of different ways to make money, I guess.
“For me, I was able to stay in the game and learn some different things. I thought it was pretty cool.”
Doll will have some interest as Minnesota (13-3) visits Philadelphia (13-3) in the NFC championship game on Sunday at 6:40 p.m.
“A very good friend of mine is coaching Linval Joseph (former ECU defensive lineman) with the Minnesota Vikings,” Doll said. “Right now, that’s my team. I would like for them to win because of Linval and also, my friend. His name is Andre Patterson. He’s the defensive line coach there. We worked together at Denver. He’s got close to the best defensive line in the NFL. It’s one of the top couple. . . . I like Philly after that. John DeFilippo is the quarterbacks coach. We worked together at one point at Notre Dame and San Jose State.”
Doll is looking forward, not back, as far as his coaching career at ECU is concerned.
“Being a graduate of East Carolina, I know there’s been some rough years here, but I think there’s a lot of good things that are going to happen,” Doll said. “I’m not saying I know everything. The thing that I’ve seen in my life is that if you keep having negative things discussed, it becomes part of everybody’s personality.
“That’s not what I’m really here for. Because of what the university did for me, I want to somehow repay that. I know that we can do it because it’s been done before. You look at every decade. There’s been ups and downs. They haven’t been 9-2 or 10-3 for whole decade. It hasn’t happened like that. I’m hoping that whatever little bit I can do, I want to bring everything I can to help the team and the university to be successful.”
Special teams assessment
Doll has only scratched the surface with next season’s potential special teams players.
“I haven’t been there that much,” Doll said. “I did have an opportunity to have an afternoon where I had the specialists come in. We got to know each other. I knew Caleb Pratt (kicker on kickoffs) from my previous time here. I got to meet Jake (Verity, kicker, punter) and Anthony (Ratliff, long snapper). I’m looking forward to having spring so we can learn more about each other and I’ll have a better idea of how to, hopefully, utilize their strengths and improve their weaknesses. I’m looking forward to that.
“We’re going to practice earlier this spring. It’s in February. There’s a lot of good, positive things about it. For the kickers, when it’s maybe a little uncomfortable, it’s going to help them with their mental toughness so when you have those experiences in the season, there’s something that they can fall back on that will help them perform well in adverse conditions.
” . . . We’re looking at a couple of different positions that we want to strengthen. I’m not comfortable and I know the coaching staff is not comfortable with having just one person (Verity kicking and punting). We need a punter. You get some other people that are in the program and develop them so you have depth. You don’t want to have a situation where you lose one guy and it falls off the cliff. We’re fortunate there that Jake is multi-talented. I think Caleb is going to try some different things so we can be ready for any situation that exists. We’re going to look into Caleb doing some punting. If he has the ability to, I want him to.”
Stint at FIU
Doll has lived the last two years in Miami.
“When I left East Carolina in March of 2016, I worked at FIU (Florida International) for a year,” Doll said. “Ron Turner was the head coach. Ron and I coached together at [Texas] A&M. He’s Norv’s brother, who the Panthers just hired [as offensive coordinator]. . . . It was unfortunate that Ron was let go after the fourth game. At the end of the season, they hired Butch Davis and he brought in his guys. I did the analytics stuff this past year and some other things. I could do that at home in Miami. It’s off the internet. There were some other things that I was handling as well.”
Process of recent hire
Doll was low key in his most recent pursuit of a position.
“Initially, I just kind of made sure that Coach [Scottie] Montgomery knew that I was interested in coming back,” Doll said. “When the 10th coaching position was possibly going to happen in April, there was a conversation. Obviously, they didn’t pass it for April so it went to Jan. 3. I had very minimal contact but I did keep in touch and make sure that they were aware of my interest. He called and we talked and he offered me the job.”
Doll will be covering some familiar territory as he seeks prospective players.
“In North Carolina, I will have the northeastern part of high schools,” Doll said. “I have an area in South Carolina that goes a little bit west of Columbia and then it comes down across over to Myrtle Beach. There’s a number of the same schools that I had in South Carolina and there will be a few new ones. There are some good players. We’ll just keep after it.”
Impressions of Coach Mo
The priority of recruiting means that Doll’s time in the football office has been limited since he rejoined the staff, but Montgomery has impressed the veteran assistant.
“We’ve had a couple of phone conversations, a couple of text messages,” Doll said. “But we had one staff meeting for four hours. He’s out recruiting and I’m out recruiting. I haven’t been around him a great deal, but what I see is a great deal of organization. The time management part of it is very effective in terms of doing things. He’s got some new ideas in recruiting to how the university is looked at, how it’s perceived. . . . He’ll take a day and every coach in recruiting will go to Raleigh and just blast East Carolina, the high schools. It might not be every high school, but a bunch of them. Then you go to Greensboro. Then you go to Charlotte and do the same thing for a couple of days.
“What he’s doing, because of the early signing period, most of the kids are signed in December. There’s a couple that we still are bringing in and all that, but you’re using that to advertise your university for the next year.”
Factors in another turnaround
Doll helped the Pirates improve from 4-6 in 1971 to 9-2 in 1972. The current program could use a similar upgrade.
“It doesn’t matter what university,” Doll said. “You look at a lot of universities and you go, ‘That team doesn’t have a chance.’ Then all of a sudden, they beat somebody that they shouldn’t beat. To me, there’s a lot of good players. There’s a lot of talent and when you get it directed in the right direction and you have — attitude to me is everything. A great example that always sticks in my mind is when I went from Texas A&M to Notre Dame (1994). Texas A&M and Notre Dame had played in the Cotton Bowl two years in a row. Every year when I walked out on that field, I looked at Notre Dame and said, ‘They’ve got so much talent.’ I go to Notre Dame the next year and I’m looking around. Those guys are talented but they had a couple of early losses. Their mentality became like they didn’t have anything to play for so to speak. We were not very good. We were 6-5-1, but with some of those same players the next year, it went up (9-3).
“The mental part of it, the strength of the effort and all that stuff, being competitive, is so meaningful with young people. I think that’s something that will be improved on.
“I’m looking forward to the East Carolina fans coming out and we will have a great year. . . . I’m excited about the opportunity, everybody coming back and moving forward.”