It took awhile to happen, but once the dominoes finally began to fall, they all came down in a hurry.
First came the emergency meeting of East Carolina’s Board of Trustees last Wednesday, followed in rapid succession by the announcement a day later that Scottie Montgomery had been fired, effective immediately, as the Pirates’ football coach.
The timing of the dismissal coincided with reports that James Madison coach Mike Houston had withdrawn his name from consideration for the opening at Charlotte, leading to speculation that he was more interested in coming to ECU than coaching the 49ers.
By Sunday afternoon, just 24 hours after the Pirates were handed a 58-3 drubbing at the hands of N.C. State in a game that probably should never have been played, those rumors had turned into reality.
Not only had ECU hired Houston to lead its football program from the doldrums of three straight 3-9 seasons, but it also filled the athletic director position that has been vacant for the past nine months with Southern Mississippi’s Jon Gilbert.
Both additions are expected to be approved when the Board of Trustees has another emergency meeting this morning and announced shortly thereafter.
Only time will tell if the hires are what ECU needs to get its football program back on track toward respectability, then prominence.
In the meantime, Pirates fans have every reason to be excited about the new additions. Because after an extended period of disappointment, disillusionment and in some cases disinterest, Gilbert and Houston represent — at long last — a reason to be optimistic again.
Houston, in particular, is a symbol of hope.
It doesn’t take a long memory to recall the opening game of the 2017 season, when the 47-year-old Western North Carolina native brought his defending FCS national champion Dukes into Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium and manhandled the Pirates. JMU rolled up 614 yards and intercepted three passes in totally outclassing ECU to the tune of 34-14.
The promise of Houston coming to Greenville and helping the Pirates inflict that kind of damage on someone else is enough to send visions of sugarplums dancing into the heads of everyone that wears purple and gold this holiday season.
Just try not to set the bar too high, at least too soon.
There’s never anyone more popular in sports than an undefeated coach. Until next August 31, coincidentally enough at N.C. State, that’s what Houston will be at ECU.
While the cupboard Houston inherits is anything but bare thanks to the solid core of young talent brought in by Montgomery and his outgoing staff, dramatic turnarounds don’t usually happen overnight.
Just ask Scott Frost at Nebraska.
Disgruntled Cornhuskers fans desperate for a miracle worker couldn’t wait to start a FireScottFrost.com website after the new coach got off to an 0-5 start. It was only after the team began adjusting to Frost’s system and won four of its last six games that people finally started to warm up to him.
It’s a cautionary tale Pirate fans should keep in mind once the next chapter of ECU football kicks off in the fall.
At the same time, it’s okay to have high hopes. Just as long as they’re accompanied by a healthy dose of reality, as defensive coordinator David Blackwell suggested after serving as interim coach for Saturday’s 2018 finale.
“It’s going to get there,” he said of the Pirates’ fresh start. “It just takes time.”
Blackwell’s future with the program is uncertain as Houston puts together his new staff over the coming days. As much as he’d like to stay on at his alma mater, he understands there’s a good chance that won’t happen.
Either way, he said he’ll remain all-in for the Pirates. His attitude should resonate with everyone associated with ECU now that all the dominoes have fallen, especially those that lost faith in their school’s administration and stayed away from Dowdy-Ficklen in droves during the tumultuous era that just came to a merciful end.
“The one thing that we’ve got to do as Pirates, as alumni and fans, we’ve got to get behind East Carolina,” he said. “We’ve got to get behind the university. We’ve got to get rid of some of the negativity around the university. Our football program is going to grow, get better and there’s going to be a lot of exciting things.
“I challenge our fan base to get behind whoever the next coach is and get behind the program and get in the stands. Let’s be proud of our university because it’s our university.”