Success is a subjective pursuit.
There are no numbers to measure it or set standards to validate it.
Rather, success is a standard each of us define in our own individual terms. It means something different to everyone.
As such, beauty is in the eye of the beholder when it comes to East Carolina’s 2019 football season.
Looking at it strictly from a won-loss perspective, it would be hard not to classify the Pirates’ body of work as a success, since their four victories surpassed their total from each of the three previous years.
There are some, however, who have a hard time celebrating a season in which their team finished four games under .500, posted two of its four wins against FCS opponents and another against a now former conference rival that leaves the American Athletic Conference on an 19-game league losing streak.
It’s obvious how those inside the program classify their results in Mike Houston’s first season as ECU’s coach.
“Is (the program) in better shape today than it was a year ago? Yes,” Houston said after Saturday’s 49-24 loss to Tulsa. “Anybody that doesn’t see that or doesn’t say obviously is not paying a whole lot of attention.
“At the same time are we where we want to be? Not even close. We have very high expectations for East Carolina football. This is a great place. I think that we can win here. There’s no doubt. And we will get there.”
Despite the promise of Houston’s winning history — his teams finished first or second in their conference seven out of his eight previous seasons as a head coach — nobody realistically could have expected him to walk right in and fashion an immediate turnaround.
He’s a coach, not a miracle worker. And he was left a significant mess to clean up.
But even with the understanding that these things take time, there is a certain element of disappointment to the Pirates’ now-completed 2019 campaign because of how much better it could have been.
Then there’s what happened at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium on Saturday.
Facing a Tulsa team that came in at 3-8, ranked 10th out of 12 teams in the AAC in scoring offense, all the ingredients were in place for ECU to finish on a high note that would invigorate both the players and a still-skeptical fan base going into the long offseason.
Instead, the Pirates gave up 338 yards rushing and 669 yards overall in a 25-point loss that was in many respects, hauntingly familiar to some of the defeats suffered during the tenure of former coach Scottie Montgomery.
If nothing else, Saturday’s defeat called attention to some of Houston’s top priorities between now and Sept. 5 — when Marshall comes to Greenville for ECU’s 2020 opener.
In addition to getting his players bigger, stronger and faster in the weight room and closer to graduation in the classroom, Houston and his staff need to hit the recruiting trail hard with an emphasis on deepening the program’s pool of defensive talent.
There’s also more work to do in changing the culture and raising the expectations among those already on the roster — an area in which significant strides have already been made.
Saturday’s result notwithstanding.
“I feel good about the culture in the locker room,” Houston said Saturday. “I am disappointed in the way we competed today. At the same time sometimes, I look up and there are so many freshmen in the huddle and the reality is we are playing against much older kids. So, we have to continue to do a great job of developing our young kids.
“We’ve got to recruit and we’ve got to continue to grow the program. We have said it many times — it didn’t get this way overnight and it’s not going to get fixed overnight. It’s going to take time to get the program back where we all want it to be.”
With that in mind, let’s chalk 2019 up as a success. A modest one, but still a success — one that comes with the understanding that the definition of the term will change next season and beyond as the bar continues to be raised.