As was the case with East Carolina’s season opener at N.C. State, Saturday’s 42-10 beatdown at the hands of Navy had an uncomfortably familiar look and feel to it.
If it wasn’t already obvious before this weekend, it should be now. Turning the ECU football program around and restoring it to its past glory isn’t a quick-fix proposition.
“The day I took this job, I was not naive. I knew there would be days like this,” new coach Mike Houston said after the Midshipmen and their triple option attack ran roughshod over his team. “But I told those kids in there this is where I want to be. I made the decision to be here with them. I care about them.
“We’re all on the same page and we’re all going to work together. I can promise you no matter what anybody thinks, nobody’s more driven to get this fixed than that group in the locker room, myself, and our coaches.”
With all due respect to those players in the locker room, many of whom have poured their hearts and souls out for their school over the course of three difficult years, the only way Houston is truly going to change the culture of the program is by recruiting.
That doesn’t mean the rest of this season should be written off.
There are way too many games left to be played and some of the pieces to a resurgent ECU are already in place. Besides, in at least one respect, this current team has already done something to spark a flicker of hope.
It won a game against a team it was supposed to beat.
That might not be saying much, but considering the Pirates had lost to FCS opponents in each of the past two seasons, the win against Gardner-Webb two weeks ago wasn’t just a great way to christen the new-and-improved Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium, it was also a small, but tangible sign of progress.
A baby step, if you will.
Now the obvious next step is to learn how to do it again.
The process begins this Saturday with a home game against another team American Athletic Conference programs are supposed top beat.
That’s the immediate goal.
Forget bowl bids, win totals and any other big picture distractions that are out there. Take care of business against against William & Mary.
Then come back the next week against Old Dominion — a fledgling program still looking to gain footing in the FBS — and learn what it’s like to win on the road.
From there, the focus turns to the conference schedule. Beat Connectucut, the only other AAC team (at least for one more season) with farther to go toward respectability than the Pirates and start planting the seeds of a true home field advantage by being competitive against everyone that comes to Dowdy-Ficklen. Even the strong teams.
Anything else this team accomplishes beyond that is a bonus.
Sure, that’s setting the bar low. But if Saturday’s convincing 42-10 setback is an accurate representation of where the program is at this point in the rebuilding process, then it’s also unrealistic to set anything but the most basic of short-term expectations.
There’s still every reason to believe that Houston is going to get the job done. He’s a strong personality and an accomplished coach with a proven record of winning — and winning big — everywhere he’s been.
But as we’ve already established, these things don’t happen overnight. It’s a one-day-at-a-time reality Houston expressed in the immediate aftermath of Saturday’s loss at Navy.
“It’s one game in a season full of games and it counts the same as all the rest,” the new coach said. “So next week becomes the biggest game of our season.”