Bobby Petrino was fired as Louisville’s football coach on Sunday.
While that bit of news doesn’t have a direct connection to East Carolina’s uncertain gridiron situation, it does open up a subject of particular interest to the Pirates as they decide on the direction they’ll go once their fourth straight losing season is officially in the books.
Specifically, the effect college football’s new early signing period has had on the way coaching changes are handled.
It is no longer prudent to wait until after the final game to hand the outgoing coach his pink slip, especially if your team has a makeup game scheduled for Dec. 1.
Under that timetable, there’s a realistic possibility that the Dec 19-21 signing window will have opened and closed by the time a search committee can be seated and all the logistics surrounding a hire are addressed.
By making the change now and getting a head start on the process, as Louisville has with Petrino and Kansas with David Beaty, schools stand a chance of having a new coach in place in time to salvage the year’s recruiting cycle.
Though prospective hires can’t officially be contacted until their seasons are over, interest can be assessed through back channels and, in some cases, deals can be be put in place so that they’re ready to go as soon as the time is right.
Recruiting is about relationships, after all, and it’s tough enough to build one over the course of months, let alone a couple of weeks. Or even days.
The sooner the new guy is introduced, the faster he can start getting to know prospects already committed to the program and convincing them to remain in the fold while at the same time attempting to make a late play for other uncommitted players.
This is not to advocate for Scottie Montgomery’s removal. That’s a decision that will ultimately be made by someone at ECU, presumably Special Advisor to the Chancellor Dave Hart, not the court of public opinion.
But if it is Hart’s decision to make, it would behoove him to do it sooner, rather than later.
After 33 games over 2½ seasons, with an 8-25 record (3-19 in the American Athletic Conference), Montgomery’s body of work is already broad enough to make a decision on his future with the Pirates. It’s unlikely that the results of the final three games will do anything to dramatically change his situation.
Though this year’s team is visibly improved over Montgomery’s first two as a head coach, the payoff still isn’t there. As was the case with its latest close-but-no cigar effort, Saturday’s 24-18 loss at Tulane, the Pirates’ ceiling appears to be playing just well enough to lose.
Still, progress has been made on both sides of the ball and in the kicking game. And the talent pool on the roster is undeniably deeper than when Montgomery took over, especially at quarterback with the arrival of Holton Ahlers.
Hart has also stated publicly that he believes the current staff has been hamstrung by financial constraints and facilities that have not been up to AAC standards, handicaps that at least in the area of facilities are currently being addressed.
If that’s enough for him — or whoever’s call it might be — to determine that Montgomery deserves at least one more year to try and get the job done, then so be it. Come out and say so now so that Montgomery can get to work preparing for next season and continue recruiting with confidence.
Conversely, if a change is inevitable so that the new athletic director has the opportunity to bring in his own man to run the highest profile program on his watch, then waiting until Dec. 2 risks setting the task of rebuilding back at least another year.
After four straight seasons without a winning record or bowl appearance, that’s something no one associated with the Pirates wants to happen.