Fred Goldsmith has been a valuable influence in the development of first-year East Carolina football coach Mike Houston.
Goldsmith was Atlantic Coast Conference Coach of the Year at Duke in 1994 before parting ways with the Blue Devils in 1998.
Ironically, perhaps, former ECU coach Scottie Montgomery started his college career at Duke under Goldsmith.
Houston was coaching on the high school level at T.C. Roberson in Asheville when Goldsmith was at nearby Franklin.
Brevard gave Houston his first college job as defensive coordinator in 2006. A year later, Goldsmith returned to the college level at Lenoir-Rhyne, hiring Houston as defensive coordinator and secondary coach.
“It was an absolute mess when we got there,” Houston told The Asheville Citizen-Times in 2014 of the situation at L-R before he and Goldsmith arrived. “We had some real character problems, but Coach Goldsmith taught me how to build a roster with character instead of just ability.”
The Bears performed better under Goldsmith’s guidance and when he retired after an 8-3 season in 2010, he recommended Houston as his replacement. As head coach, Houston led Lenoir-Rhyne to the Division II national championship game in 2013.
East Carolina icon Clarence Stasavich, who used a single wing attack in the 1960s, came from Lenoir-Rhyne, which is also the alma mater of ECU athletic director Jon Gilbert.
Successful stops at The Citadel, JMU
Houston left Lenoir-Rhyne for The Citadel and guided the Bulldogs to a share of the Southern Conference championship in 2015. From there, Houston took over at James Madison and directed the Dukes to the Football Championship Subdivision title in 2016. Houston followed former North Carolina coach Everett Withers at JMU as the program improved from 9-4 the previous season to 14-1.
Houston’s overall record as a college head coach is 80-25.
Not if, but when
There seems to be a feeling among Pirate Nation that the question regarding Houston is not if he will be successful but when.
How long will it take the Dec. 3 hire to get his first Football Bowl Subdivision program turned around? ECU was 3-9 for three straight seasons under Montgomery.
If he has the same production rate as coaching stops at Lenoir-Rhyne, The Citadel and James Madison, then some brighter days are in store.
No magic dust
Houston speaks with the assurance of knowing what’s involved in stepping up programs. He doesn’t have a magic wand, but he demands hard work with an eye on continuing improvement.
What’s his secret?
“The big thing is it’s not what I do, it’s what we do,” Houston said at the American Athletic Conference media kickoff in Newport, RI, in July. “It’s our culture. It’s creating the family atmosphere that we’ve had at all those places. We do it together. It’s not just the coaches. It’s not just the players. It’s not me. It’s all about us and we. We try to create a strong bond with the players. My coaching staff is tight-knit. There’s a lot of unity there. I think that bleeds over into our roster as well.
“I think in time you’re going to see us build a culture within the football program, within our locker room, where everybody is on the same page. Everybody trusts each other. Everybody cares about each other. When you get that and you get them all rowing in the same direction, all working toward a common goal, that’s when you can really achieve those special things. That’s when you overachieve, based on what ability you have.
“That’s the formula we use and, in time, it will be fully implemented and you’ll see it on the field.”
Return to Raleigh
The Pirates open the season on August 31 at N.C. State, which rolled to a 58-3 win over ECU in last year’s regular-season finale. That will be a big game, but it’s just the start of the Houston era.
“The big thing is keeping a focus, whether it’s week one or week eight, on what’s right in front of us,” Houston said. “It’s not a sprint. It’s a marathon. You can’t get too caught up in last week. and you certainly can’t worry about week after next. There’s a lot that goes into every week in college football. There’s going to be a lot of attention on the opener against N.C. State because it’s the first one.
“It’s the one I’ve talked to the players a lot about this summer, but as soon as that game is over, there is going to be a lot of attention on week two. You’ve got to be able to have that kind of flip that page mindset, week in and week out, and that consistency with our preparation so we’re excited for August 31st. N.C. State is a rivalry game for us. It was the last game of last year for the 2018 team so I think there’s probably some emotion left over from that that will spill over into this one.
“The biggest thing, it’s going to be our first opportunity with the new coaching staff to get on this field as a program. We’re excited to see what we’re going to have an opportunity to be in 2019.”
Pearls from Goldsmith
Houston’s former mentor inherited a Duke program that was 3-8 in 1993. The Blue Devils started 8-0 in 1994 before losing 59-20 at Florida State.
“It never happens overnight, and it’s never an easy job to rebuild programs that haven’t had success,” Goldsmith said after Houston had gone to The Citadel. “It’s all about not taking shortcuts and getting the right kind of kids to buy into what you are trying to accomplish. If you can do that, you can have success and win some football games while doing things the right way.”
ECU’s recruiting efforts appear to be going well and that’s a solid sign for the future, but how long will it be before the wins outnumber the losses?
Good omen for run game
With Steve Shankweiler back as offensive line coach, the Pirates have some history on their side.
ECU’s top three career rushers — Junior Smith (3,745 yards, 1991-94), Leonard Henry (3,089 yards, 1998-2001) and Chris Johnson (2.982 yards, 2004-07) — all accumulated at least a portion of their ground production behind fronts that were schooled by “Shank” during his three previous stints with the program.
That bodes well for the Pirates, who averaged 129.7 yards per game rushing in 2018, which ranked 112th in the FBS.