As head coach, Scottie Montgomery bears the brunt of responsibility for East Carolina’s back-to-back 3-9 football seasons.
He’s the first to acknowledge that.
But as Dave Hart, the special consultant to chancellor Cecil Staton for athletics, indicated in an interview with Bonesville published last week, there are other factors besides coaching that must be addressed for the Pirates to regain their winning ways on the gridiron.
Among the most significant are facilities and recruiting.
ECU is already addressing the facilities component with ongoing renovation and additions to Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium. Even more promising is the fact that Hart has pledged greater support on the part of school administration — with support meaning more money — in an effort to improve Montgomery’s ability to attract better players.
“You’re either going to be a player or you’re going to be on the sidelines,” Hart said. “We want to be a player. The chancellor wants us to be a player. Right now, though, we’re largely on the sidelines.
“We’ve got to get to the point where we can create enough financial support to erase any or the voids that exist in recruiting. That’s critically important. We have some holes there.”
The emphasis on recruiting has become amplified over the past four years since the Pirates joined the American Athletic Conference.
In order to keep pace in the more competitive league, ECU has needed a better caliber of players than those that helped it become a champion in Conference USA. That process, however, has been slow to gain momentum.
It was obvious to the naked eye last fall in how slow South Florida’s Quinton Flowers, Central Florida’s McKenzie Milton and others made would-be Pirates defenders look as they raced past them in weekly track meets to the end zone.
But there are already tangible signs, even before the increased support Hart has promised, that Montgomery and his staff are already beginning close the glaring talent gap with their AAC rivals.
The recruiting class that will begin its career when preseason camp begins at the end of this month is generally acknowledged to be a major upgrade over its immediate predecessors, highlighted by four-star quarterback Holton Ahlers — who turned down offers from SEC schools to stay home and play for ECU — and an abundance of defensive playmakers. (Thumbnail sketches of ECU’s recruiting class of 2018…)
Next year’s class is shaping up to be even stronger. (Thumbnail sketches of ECU’s recruiting class of 2019…)
While most of us have taken time off to head to the beach or mountains or to just hang out at home relaxing, the Pirates’ coaches have been hard at work on the recruiting trail selling their program.
And from the look of things over the past month, they’ve found plenty of buyers.
Since the start of June, Montgomery and his staff have collected 10 verbal commitments, upping their total for the Class of 2019 to 17.
More important than the numbers is the quality of these players.
South Central defensive end Jeremy Lewis, the most recent of the commitments, had offers from North Carolina, Duke and Tennessee before choosing ECU. Two other local products — three-star wide receiver C.J. Johnson from D.H. Conley and three-star defensive tackle Keziah Everett from Farmville Central — turned down the likes of UNC, Duke, N.C. State, Virginia Tech and South Carolina to stay close to home and play for the Pirates.
Not only is Montgomery succeeding in keeping the best players in Eastern North Carolina in Eastern North Carolina — or more specifically, at East Carolina — he’s doing it at the expense of in-state rivals Larry Fedora, Dave Doeren, David Cutcliffe.
Although nothing is certain until all those recruits sign their official NCAA Letters of Intent in December (or February), there’s plenty of reason for hope.
If not optimism.
Help is definitely on the way. The only question is whether Montgomery will still be around by the time the promising Class of 2019 makes it to campus.
Though the criteria for his keeping his job is still somewhat vague, especially with Hart now calling the shots rather than embattled former athletic director Jeff Compher, it’s safe to say that it’s going to take more than a third straight three-win season to survive.
Because while facilities and recruiting are important elements in building a winning program, coaching still matters. If Montgomery can’t get his team off the sidelines and at least show some signs of becoming a player this year, there’s a good chance ECU’s administration will start looking for someone else who can.