Bob Trott brings a wealth of experience to the East Carolina football program as defensive coordinator on the staff that coach Mike Houston brought with him from James Madison.
“It’s been great,” Trott said. “They had three to four hundred people. Everybody’s excited. We’ve got a good class. Only time will tell, but we’re all excited about this class. There’s a good balance. I think we got 10 offense, 10 defense and a special teams player.”
Philosophy of unit
Sometimes, college football can be a relatively small world. Houston and Trott both worked with former Duke coach Fred Goldsmith, who was guiding the Blue Devils in the playing days of former ECU coach Scottie Montgomery, the new offensive coordinator at Maryland.
Goldsmith coached on the high school level at Franklin after leaving Duke and his team played T.C. Roberson, which was coached by Houston. When Goldsmith became coach at Lenoir-Rhyne, he brought Houston on his staff. That’s where the defensive philosophy that Trott uses began to develop.
“It’s our defensive philosophy,” Trott said. “The way Coach Houston and I met was he was coaching for Fred Goldsmith (at Lenoir-Rhyne), who I had coached with for years. They basically put in the defense that he and Fred and I had run.
“Over the years, Mike and I have talked a lot of defense. It’s nice to have a defensive head coach. No. 1, we get to ride on the first bus and No. 2, he comes in the room, he’s very knowledgeable. He knows what we’re trying to do. It’s another set of eyes for us. I think it’s invaluable. Basically, what we both believe and the whole staff believes — we want to be a smart football team, first of all. We want to play really fast. We want to be an aggressive football team. We want to make offenses have a rough day.
“We also talk about all the kinds of things that make us win and things that cause us to lose. You’ve got to stop the run. That’s true. If you watched the playoff games in the NFL, the teams that ran the ball won the games. That hasn’t changed. We want our players to understand that if you can win first and second down, the odds are in our favor on third down. It’s a matter of percentages. It’s a matter of field position, things that cause you to win.
“We’ve been really lucky on another note. We’ve been really good on special teams. The thing that Coach Houston does, he’s the head coach and he manages the whole team. I coached with Bill Parcells and I don’t know how many times he said it, ‘We’re going to play a complementary game. All three phases have to do their part.’ That’s the job of the head coach. He’s very involved and we all know going into the game what the offense needs to do, what the defense needs to do and what the special teams needs to do. We try to play our part — get the ball. Get turnovers. Get the ball to Donnie (Kirkpatrick, offensive coordinator) and the offense and we’ll score a lot of points.”
ECU is coming off three straight 3-9 seasons and hasn’t been to a bowl since 2014. Trott has some familiarity with the Pirate defensive players.
“We’ve watched some of the tapes and stuff,” Trott said. “It’s not the first time I’ve been in these situations. I really try to take the attitude, and I think all of us, we’re not worried about what’s happened before. We want to worry about what’s happening now. We’ve got some good players. These players are hungry. They want to win. That’s all you can ask for. It’s a process. This is the early stage of the process. …
“I’ve been pleased watching them work out, watching their attitudes. If you’ve got a hungry team, you’ve got a chance. This team is hungry. They want to win and there’s some talent on this team.”
ECU will have a high degree of continuity in its coaching staff from the group that produced a national power on the Football Championship Subdivision level at JMU. The only retainee from the previous Pirate staff, cornerbacks coach Brandon Lynch, worked previously with Houston at Lenoir-Rhyne.
“We’re a 4-2-5 basically,” Trott said. “We play with four down linemen. We can go to a three-man line. We’re four down linemen. Coach (Jeff) Hanson coaches those four. We have two inside linebackers. Coach (Byron) Thweatt coaches those. One nice thing, except for Brandon Lynch, this is the first time I’ve worked with him. Everybody else we’ve worked together and we’ve won a lot of football games together.
“Coach Hanson, he has all four. We do that for a reason. We want those guys all in the same room so they can all work together. Coach Thweatt has played linebacker. I’ve been with him, I think eight years now. He’s a great linebacker coach. Coach (Roy) Tesh (special teams coordinator, bandits) was with us last year.
“He’s been with Mike before. He coaches our outside linebacker position, which can turn into a nickel position. Plus he handles all the special teams. What people don’t understand is that the vast majority of special teams players are on the defensive side of the ball. Our kids have to learn defense, plus they learn all the special teams and Coach Tesh does a great job on that with all the help from everybody else. Brandon Lynch, who was on the (ECU) staff last year was with Coach Houston and is familiar with our defense. Then I coach the two safeties.
“I love the way we set it up. I love the way we work together. This group knows what they’re doing. We’ve won a lot of games together. They’re fundamental coaches. The thing about our scheme is we know where our strengths are. We know where our weaknesses are. We know how people attack us. If there were a perfect defense, we’d all be playing it but nobody’s found it yet.
“We want to be sound. We want to be able to stop the run. We want to prevent big plays by the offense. We love turnovers. We’ve been blessed the last eight years. I think we’ve led the NCAA in interceptions at least three or four times. We led the conference about seven times in a row. Those are things that cause us to win because it allows our offense to get the ball back or we score. We want to be sound. We want to be aggressive. We want to be smart. We want to do things to help our team win.”
Prep for N.C. State
In the small world theme, the Pirates open the 2019 season at N.C. State, the same opponent and location that closed the 2018 season for ECU.
James Madison began the 2018 season at Carter-Finley Stadium. NCSU will have new leadership at offensive coordinator.
“We’ll go back and watch where they’ve been before and try to figure out what they like to do,” Trott said. “I’ve played N.C. State as a player. I’ve played them over the years. I have two brothers that went to N.C. State. So I would like nothing more than to beat N.C. State.”
The Wolfpack topped James Madison, 24-13, last season.
“I thought we played pretty well,” Trott said. “We didn’t play well enough. I understand the rivalry between East Carolina and N.C. State. It will be a big game. I know our kids will be ready to play. When you talk about a new coordinator or whatever, they can go back and study what we did. We can go back and study what their guys do. It should be a war. I think all those games are wars.
“In this state, we’re blessed with a lot of great institutions. Every week there’s going to be a war as far as football and a great battle.”
In the final two games last season, the Pirates yielded 56 and 58 points.
“It doesn’t matter to me,” Trott said. “That’s last year. We’ve started over. That’s in the past. We’re looking at the future. We have a plan. We have a proven plan that works. It’s the players’ and this team’s job to learn our system, how we do things and how hard we want to play. If they’ll buy into this, we’ll win a lot of games. I fully expect they’ll buy into it because, like I said, they’re a hungry football team. Kids all want to win, but sometimes it takes a leader like Coach Houston to put together a staff.
“You’ve got to look at what happened at JMU. JMU stepped up and hired experienced coaches and it paid off pretty well.
“East Carolina has stepped up and hired Coach Houston. We all have a lot of experience. I’ve coached in the NFL. I’ve coached 22 years FBS (Football Bowl Subdivision). I won a national championship (2016, JMU, FCS). I’ve come in second. I’ve come in third. We’ve won a lot of games the last few years. I think you can say our system works. We’re excited to be here because I know what football means to this place and this part of the state.”
Value of NFL background
Trott has coached on the highest level in the NFL.
“I worked for Bill Parcells twice,” Trott said. “I was on his staff when he was the head coach at Air Force, which was his first job. He doesn’t talk about it much because we didn’t win very much back then. But I was exposed to him. I was exposed to his culture. Al Groh was on that staff. Ken Hatfield was on that staff. Ray Handley was on that staff. A lot of really great coaches, I got indoctrinated really fast in that culture, how you do things. When I got to the NFL, Ray Handley (New York Giants) was the head coach but it was basically still the system that Bill Parcells put in. I went to New England with Coach Parcells.
“I know that system. I can watch the Patriots and I know exactly what they do during the week and how they work and how they think. I’ve been lucky because I’ve been around a lot of really good coaches. Romeo Crennel, Al Groh, Bill Parcells. I never worked with (Bill) Belichick (New England Patriots coach) but when you get in that tribe-type thing, you sort of feel like you worked with him. We’ve shared things before, so that was invaluable for me as a coach.
“Then I was blessed to work with Ken Hatfield for a long time. We won a lot of games together. Coach Goldsmith, Coach Houston. I’ve been blessed working with a lot of great people. We were pretty good at Clemson. We led the country in defense there.
“I think the pro part of it was just another step in learning, how the system is. The thing that Bill Parcells is — and that’s what I tell people all the time — the reason he’s a great coach is because deep down he’s a fundamental football coach. He still believes in blocking, tackling, running the ball and a lot of people don’t look at pro football that way.
“If you watched the Super Bowl, that was hard-nosed football right there (13-3 Patriots win over the Rams). I thought it was a great game. I love defense. There’s nothing wrong with defense. Really, it was a chess match. Two great teams and that’s what the game’s all about. I didn’t watch the halftime, so I don’t know what happened there.”
Personal playing highlight
Small world again. Trott’s personal playing highlight involved ECU.
“I played for Bill Dooley (at North Carolina),” Trott said. “I was a walk-on. As a sophomore, the first game I ever started was against East Carolina. In think I had 18 tackles that day. So for a little, ol’ walk-on from Kannapolis that was pretty big for me. I was on the team that won the first game against East Carolina and I was on the team that lost to East Carolina the first time (1975), so there’s a lot of history there.”
Objectives for spring practice
Spring practice starts in mid-March at East Carolina.
“Basically, what we want to do is install our system, so they have an understanding of what we’re doing,” Trott said. “Work on the basic fundamentals that we do at every position and create that chemistry for a good defense. We’re going to run to the ball. We’re going to play aggressive. We’re going to fit in the right place. You do those kind of things, you’ll have a good defense.”