Steve Shankweiler has been on the East Carolina coaching staff during some of the greatest seasons in program history.
Shankweiler was at ECU in 1991 when ECU went 11-1 with a 37-34 Peach Bowl win over N.C. State. When the Pirates beat West Virginia, Duke, South Carolina, Miami of Florida, Houston, Cincinnati and the Wolfpack in 1999, Shankweiler was on staff. When ECU won Conference USA championships in 2008 and 2009, Shankweiler was once again directing the Pirate blocking corps.
As ECU looks to recover from four straight losing seasons, it’s special that Shankweiler has returned for his fourth stint with the program.
He spent last season at James Madison and developed his confidence in new coach Mike Houston,
“Like anybody that’s successful in any venture, his attention to detail, his focus on the task, his ability to create an energy around a program, I think is exceptional,” Shankweiler said of Houston. “He has the ability to get the kids, the coaches, everybody on the same page and motivated. He’s exceptional at doing that.
“I think the key to his success is he gets the kids committed to a standard and challenges them on a daily basis. Literally, on a daily basis to maintain that standard. It’s not the head coach talking to the team once a week. There’s a theme every day. There’s a mission every day. There’s an expectation every day. He’s really good at drawing out the best in kids.”
Evaluating offensive line
Shankweiler has taken a preliminary look at the position group he will be working with on the offensive line.
“I have looked at half of three games,” Shankweiler said. “Not so much to look at the individuals, but to evaluate how they played as a group, what they were taught, what they were exposed to. You can see common characteristics in a group if you look at everything from pad level to hand placement to foot work — all those things the line coaches look for.
“If you see a common characteristic that kind of goes from kid to kid then you know this was obviously drilled this way. We kind of looked at everybody from a standpoint of ‘OK, what were they doing on offense and what will we be doing that will be drastically different?’ And it will be in a lot of respects. Not that it was good or bad … but we wanted to get a feel for what these kids have been exposed to. What have they been asked to do schematically? What have they been drilled to do fundamentally?
“I haven’t looked at it and said, ‘OK, this kid is this.’ I have not done that. I’m going to give everybody a fair chance and everybody walking in day one, ‘OK, here we go. Let’s start from scratch and earn the position.’ It does help me to kind of know what they’ve been doing and what they’ve been taught so I can kind of get a feel for what to expect from that standpoint.”
Kort selling real estate
Shankweiler’s son, Kort, starred at Rose High in Greenville and lettered at ECU from 2003 to 2006.
“He was working with the quarterbacks at Tennessee a year ago and they got let go,” Shankweiler said. “He has not gotten a job in coaching since. So he has gotten his real estate license and he is selling real estate in Raleigh. Until something comes back around, … which I would think it would, but if it doesn’t, he’s not like his dad.
“He’s a little bit smarter than his dad. He’ll make a decision at some point and say, ‘You know what? If the good Lord wants me to coach, there will be something there. If he doesn’t, I’m going to make some money, … but right now he’s out of coaching. We’re working to help him on that.”
Coaching against ECU
Shankweiler was at Cincinnati in 2003 when the Bearcats dealt the Pirates a 40-3 loss in the first game of the John Thompson coaching era. Shankweiler and son, Kort, were coaching at Florida International in 2013 when ECU posted a 34-13 road win over the Panthers.
“I’d be lying if I didn’t say it made a little bit of difference, because I knew a lot of those kids,” Shankweiler said of the C-USA clash in 2013. “A lot of those kids were freshmen and kids that we were recruiting when we left to go to Tampa (South Florida in 2010). So I knew a lot of them and, obviously, I knew several coaches. Donnie Kirkpatrick (new ECU offensive coordinator) was obviously on that staff. They were a whole lot better than we were. For a half, we played really, really well. … You can’t help but have feelings about the people that you worked with and helped coach.
“I never worked with a lot of those guys, but Lincoln (Riley, former ECU offensive coordinator) came up to me after the game and was really complimentary of the kids. Brandon Jones was the line coach at the time and he was very complimentary of the players that we recruited in the offensive line that I had coached there. Other than the fact that they kicked our butts, it was nice to see those guys. From that point on, they went on to be successful and it was good to see that.”
ECU finished 10-3 in 2013 with a 6-2 league record.
Specific recruiting area
Houston has divided the state among the new staff in terms of recruiting responsibilities.
“Every coach on the staff has a parcel of the state of North Carolina,” Shankweiler said. “We have been mandated from the head coach to be in every single football-playing school in the state between now and the end of May. That’s what most of us are working on right now. Donnie and I have pretty much the East. He’s got southeast, below Greenville. I’ve got northeast, up through Virginia Beach, all the way up to Williamsburg (VA).”
Shankweiler has been working his territory in recent weeks.
“I felt like it was important the first week that we weren’t really involved in recruiting a class so to speak to get out and shake hands with the high school coaches in this part of the state,” Shankweiler said. “That’s what we’re doing, We’re doing that all the way across the state.”
Greenville resident again
Shankweiler has lived in Greenville off and on since 1989.
“I’m sitting right now in my kitchen looking at nothing but giant boxes of dishes and pillows, things that Patti is waiting on me to unpack at some point,” Shankweiler said. “It may take a couple of weeks, but we’ll get it all done. … We’re within a half-mile of the last one (residence) and within two miles of two times before that. … We’re off Firetower Road. It’s a familiar part of town, no doubt.”
Changes in the game
Shankweiler has seen some changes in the game over the years.
“I look at what we did back in the ’90s, for example,” Shankweiler said. “It’s really not, in my opinion — some people may argue with me — it’s really not significantly different. We were in one-back formations and no-back formations, I think probably the difference is there’s probably a little less emphasis in college on the West Coast approach. For a generation, Bill Walsh had such an impact on college and NFL football.
“I think as times have changed the focus on the quarterback and making it simple for the quarterback has created probably more of an up tempo in terms of how many plays can we snap. So to do that, let’s keep it simple. … I don’t know that the run game has changed that much. In fact, it’s probably going back now more to what it was 10, 15 years ago.
“I think the emphasis on the quarterback position is different. … A lot of places probably don’t ask the quarterback to do quite as much pre-snap. They pretty much give him direction on, ‘Hey, you’re only going to do this.’ In the West Coast days, it was more of a full field decision-making process.
“I think what we’ve done … I’ve been back with Donnie for a year. What I see changed, he’s done a great job of incorporating what Lincoln and those guys were doing here before in keeping the run game alive with the passing game. I say that but for years we would always couple the run game with the quick game, but it was always a decision made. If it’s better to run it, we’ll call the run. If it’s better to pass it, we’ll call the pass. Whereas now, the term RPO (run pass option), everybody talks about like they all know what they’re talking about. Lincoln and Donnie, at James Madison, have done a great job of expanding that so that really, truthfully, your quick game passes are all tied to runs. So it’s a decision by the quarterback after the ball is snapped as opposed to before the ball is snapped. I think that has really changed football the last two or three or four years.
“I think that’s been the biggest change that I’ve seen. Because of the quick game and the run game being tied together, we’ve made it very simple for the quarterback to look at one guy and make a decision. Before, it was look at one guy and make a decision where to throw it. Now, it’s look at one guy and make a decision whether to hand it off or throw it. …
“Let’s say for example, you run a wide play to the tight end and you’ve got two receivers to the back side of the tight end. The guy that’s hard to block is the back side linebacker. Rather than turn the back side end loose and chase the linebacker, you block the back side end loose and let the quarterback read him. If he runs to the run, you throw it to one of those back side receivers behind where he was. If he stays and hangs there because of the pass, that’s one less guy you’ve got to block in the run game.
“The days of running the option and read the defensive end, take it out and pitch it to the next guy and all that — it’s really just a different format of that. It’s now read a guy and either hand it off in the run game or throw it off him. That’s where the game’s different. It’s just evolved to a point where, you just pick different guys in the defensive structure to read to decide whether to hand it or the quarterback keeps it or the quarterback throws it. … I grew up — the quarterback hands it or the quarterback takes it out there and pitches it to somebody. All we’re doing now, what college football has changed to is, rather than taking it out and pitching it to somebody, you’re throwing it off somebody.
“There’s only so many ways you can match 11 people on 11 people but how you do it is what’s changed. Donnie has done a great job of that. These last 12 months with him, I’ve learned a lot. It’s a neat way of doing it. You’re starting to see the NFL going to it now, too. The Ravens did some of that and the Kansas City Chiefs are going to win the Super Bowl because of it.”
Peach Bowl days were different
Shankweiler looks back on outstanding seasons at ECU like a connoisseur of vintage wines.
“Winning back to back Conference USA championships was huge,” Shankweiler said. “That’s never been done. That was a big deal. The ’99 season was maybe more remarkable than the ’91 season.”
The Peach Bowl season had some unique circumstances.
“We played obviously well,” Shankweiler said. “I’m not taking anything away from it, but there were a couple of teams we played that year that weren’t as good as they traditionally are. It was a magical moment because of the kids. It was an unusual blend of players on that team. Some of the opponents we played that year, we kind of hit them at the right time. We were doing some very unique things, especially on offense that other people were just starting to experiment with. We were kind of ahead of the curve to be honest.
“It was special from that standpoint. A guy like a Jeff Blake, a Luke Fisher, a Hunter Gallimore, a Tom Scott, … a Cedric Van Buren. I could go on. They were not recruited by very many people at all. I think what’s happened is, because of social media and because of access to video, a lot of those kids today would be very difficult to recruit. Tom Scott had nobody, you know. We beat Murray State to get Jeff Blake (quarterback). It was an unusual group of kids that really blended well. Then Bill Lewis (ECU coach) did such a great job.
“Somebody asked me the other day, how would you compare Mike Houston to guys you’ve worked for here? He’s very much Bill Lewis. He’s very focused. He’s very demanding. He’s very organized. He’s confrontational about being successful. And he demands the best out of kids. What Bill was able to do with those kids at that right time and moment — not many people were in a one-back set. Not many people were throwing the quick game. Not many people were doing those kinds of things. We kind of had the edge on them. And we hit on some kids recruiting-wise that nobody else recruited. It all kind of came together.
“I look at what we’re going to be doing on offense and I look at the mentality of the head coach and I look at some of the kids we have here or that we’re trying to get here. … The reason why you study history is because it predicts the future. I see a great opportunity.
“I’m not going to sit here and tell you that we’re going to be 11-1, but I do see that we can get this place back where people are talking about conference championships, big bowl games and that kind of thing.
” … We can get this place back where we are competitive with teams because we’ve been competitive with them before. There’s absolutely no reason why we can’t do it again.”
Insight on State, 2017
Shankweiler’s sojourns away from ECU included a stay at N.C. State in 2017 as a defensive analyst.
“It was a great experience for me,” Shankweiler said. “Obviously, you’ve got to go where people pay the bills. … It was an opportunity for me to work on defense and study other people’s offenses and appreciate what they’re trying to do. I wish I had done it when I was 30 years old because I learned so much football because I was on the other side of the ball seeing things from a different set of eyes.
“I think Dave Doeren is an absolutely outstanding football coach. He does a great job with the kids. He does a great job with his staff. I think he’s really, really good and he was very, very good to me.”
ECU opens the 2019 season at State. James Madison started its 2018 season with a 24-13 loss to the Wolfpack in Raleigh.
“Now, there’s nobody I want to beat more than Dave Doeren and we came close to beating them this year at James Madison,” Shankweiler said. “Really close. I think we have a good plan on how to attack them.
“He gave me a great opportunity and I’ll be forever indebted to him.”
The right stuff
Shankweiler has no doubt that ECU will achieve greatness again.
“East Carolina absolutely hired the right guy, not because Steve Shankweiler is on the staff,” Shankweiler said. “They absolutely hired the right guy because he’s got those qualities. … He will bring a level of discipline and toughness and physicalness to this program. Will it happen tomorrow? No, it’s got to be taught, but he will bring something to this program that will get us back where we need to go.”