Rock band Thin Lizzy had a hit song in the mid ‘70s with “The Boys are Back in Town.”
The band certainly wasn’t talking about coaches returning with the hit, but that’s what it feels like at East Carolina.
New ECU coach Mike Houston has made Donnie Kirkpatrick, Steve Shankweiler and Dale Steele part of his new staff. All three have Pirate ties, making this a most unique situation. The staff may be new, but the ECU experience will certainly pay quick dividends.
I had the honor of hosting all three on my Monday night radio show this week on Pirate Radio 1250 and 930.
Donnie Kirkpatrick returns to ECU after a three-year run under Houston at James Madison as offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. Kirkpatrick had spent his previous time under two difference coaches at ECU, serving as an assistant head coach, wide receivers coach and recruiting coordinator for the Pirates from 2005 to 2015.
“Coach K” was an integral part of JMU’s 2017 FCS National Championship team as the offensive coordinator.
“We’re just thrilled to be back,” said Kirkpatrick. “Of course, I think more people are excited to see my wife Misty coming back as they are me.”
Kirkpatrick will get a chance to work with former D.H. Conley star Holton Ahlers, who Kirkpatrick has known since he was little.
“I don’t think he ever was little,” Kirkpatrick joked. “But I have known him for a while. I’m looking forward to working with him and all of our quarterbacks.”
While Kirkpatrick had one long stint at ECU, offensive line coach Steve Shankweiler has had three, separate, five-year runs with the Pirates. This will be his fourth stint as a Pirate assistant coach.
Shank spent last season with JMU as the offensive line coach. The year before he worked with N.C. State coach Dave Doeren’s staff as a defensive analyst. Before that he was at Florida International for four seasons as offensive coordinator and offensive line coach.
Shank’s previous stints at ECU coincided with some of the most successful years in the history of East Carolina football. The Pirates played in seven bowl games during his time in Greenville, which included their historic 1991 season in which they won the Peach Bowl and finished the year ranked 9th in the nation, which is an all-time program record.
“I can’t put into words how excited I am to be back,” said Shankweiler. “This is a very special place to me and my family, and I can’t wait to get to work.”
It was once described by some that Shankweiler was the trainer, and his lineman were the ‘dancing bears.’
“I don’t know who came up with that,” he explained. “I think it was because we had some big guys who had good feet. But we won’t have any dancing bears now. We’re going to be physical and pave the way to run the football.”
Dale Steele was also a member of the coaching staff for the record breaking 1991 season. There is a great shot on YouTube that shows Shankweiler and Steele together on that Pirate sideline during the Pittsburgh game that season. Pirate fans remember that ECU rallied late in that win over the Panthers. ECU scored in the final minute and then made the two-point conversion to win the game.
“That was a great game and one of many amazing memories at ECU,” said Steele.
Steele is the Director of Football Administration under Coach Houston. He says Pirate fans will see a very meticulous, old school type of coach in Mike Houston.
“He’s very organized,” said Steele. “More than anything Coach Houston is a winner. He does things his way and his record speaks for itself.”
Houston has hit the ground running at East Carolina. It certainly helps to have so much “Pirate” experience on his first staff.