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The timing of the dismissal coincided with reports that James Madison coach Mike Houston had withdrawn his name from consideration for the opening at Charlotte, leading to speculation that he was more interested in coming to ECU than coaching the 49ers.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.”
Are we really sure he is inheriting a lot of talent? A lot of the players expressing remorse at Montgomery being fired, mention he was their only chance at playing at D1. The results this year were not only due to bad coaching.
I do like that he has a recruiting base that is close to ECU already. I do expect a fairly quick turnaround.
This years class only has one player in the top 50 in NC (Freshwater). So I am really skeptical of the talent level he has recruited……sure ECU has always been a program that recruited lesser known players and developed them into stars, that’s been our bread and butter for years. But its getting harder and harder to win in the AAC with mostly 2 star recruits with a sprinkling of 3 star guys. As a life long Pirate fan. We have to do a better job of keeping some the best talent in eastern NC home. One guy in the top 50 is not getting that done.
william young says
From the beginning, Montgomery should have seen the O line and D line was very weak. That never seemed to be addressed. We’re should start there and get the proper foundation for winning first. We need to address our budget as well. Seems almost everyone in the AAC had a larger budget than we do. As for talent, David Garrard said this past summer that our receiving corps was as good as he’s seen at ECU. He also said our QBs would have to run for their lives to last a season. We’re not gonna out recruit ACC schools in our state until we win, and the best talent usually goes out of state. Be patient and let’s rack up some wins and create depth in the trenches with talent there first and the rest will fall in line. We also need to concentrate on the AAC and win there before worrying about the rest of the schedule (fans especially).
Jason M Howlett says
You must have never listened to any of Mos interviews. The line was very young as a result of the previous admin leaving the cabinets bare. Scotty brought in Jucos his first year trying to feel gaps but he knew he to many and it would hurt the program.
What a relief!!!! says
Houston is such a fresh breath!! Just watched his press conference and so wonderful to actually hear a football guy again. It’s not about what you do so mush as how you do it!! Love that, exactly. Effort, discipline, accountability, determination, old school concepts that never expire!
He’ll win some NC kids again in recruiting I’m certain. And yes, I agree with the last comments, O line and D line. Houston said the O line sets the identity of the team! What a great statement. This man gets it!
So happy to see him in G’vegas!!! Go Pirates!! let’s fill up the stadium next fall and have some fun again.