It’s the goal of every new coach, especially those taking over losing programs, to change the culture of the team they’ve inherited.
East Carolina’s Mike Houston is no exception.
It’s one of the first things he said at his introductory press conference back in December.
The problem is, a new culture can’t be established until the old one is completely rejected. That’s not something that happens overnight, as the Pirates’ returning players learned on the opening day of preseason football camp Friday.
Houston was less than thrilled with their performance during a rigorous first practice and he didn’t mince words in calling them out, saying that he was “disappointed in how some of the older kids succumbed to the heat.
“There ain’t gonna be any tapping out. There ain’t gonna be any not practicing, then playing,” he said. “All those habits that have been here for the past several years, they ain’t gonna be here. They’re going to understand that. At the end, it was Day 1. We hope to have a better Day 2.”
Houston’s criticism must have struck a chord, because he was much more complimentary of the way the veterans answered his challenge following Saturday’s second practice.
“Maybe it hurt their feelings a little bit,” the former James Madison coach said. “But they had some pride about them.”
It’s a situation worth keeping a close eye on during this early phase of camp.
Houston has clearly stated on several occasions that performance and effort will be held in higher regard than seniority, and he’s already proved it by adjusting a still-fluid depth chart at several positions.
If nothing else, he’s succeeded in making an early statement that there’s a new way of doing things at ECU. And if you don’t buy in now, completely, you’re going to be left behind. He reinforced that philosophy by posting the Pirates’ 2019 schedule on Twitter, with the caption: It’s pointless to have expectations without commitment!
“I put that Tweet out because that quote fits a lot of things around here, around this university, around this program,” Houston said. “You can have expectations, that’s all fine and good. But if there’s not a commitment to back up those expectations, then they’re false. They’re fake and we ain’t gonna be about that. We’re going to be committed within this program to meet the expectations we have.”
Houston has been careful not to publicly state what those expectations are, as his predecessor Scottie Montgomery did in proclaiming the Pirates would be a bowl team before last season.
Rather, he’s concentrating on making his team tougher — both physically and mentally — and preparing it to be more competitive regardless of the opponent.
His biggest emphasis has been on finishing, something the Pirates didn’t do well a year ago while getting outscored 112-67 in the fourth quarter.
“When you have adversity, you have two choices,” Houston said. “You can quit and go home or you can push through.”
The Pirates did a better job of pushing through on Saturday than Friday. But that, Houston said, is only the beginning. After all, there’s more to establishing a winning culture than simply making effort and motivation a daily habit.
There are plenty of other changes being made throughout ECU’s program in preparation for the season opener at N.C. State later this month — from the training table to the strength and conditioning regimen to the standard with which the players are being held to the new offensive and defensive schemes currently being installed.
While those changes won’t automatically bring about success, after three straight 3-9 seasons, doing anything differently is a good place to start.