It’s said that the best way to lose a friend is to go into business with him. There’s even more truth to that old axiom when it comes to the business of coaching.
Regardless of how long a head coach and his staff have worked together or how long he and an assistant have known one another, the only friendships that truly last in sports are the ones that continue to produce winning results.
Once the winning stops, it’s usually time to go out and find some new friends who can help get it started again.
That apparently is what happened between East Carolina football coach Mike Houston and his now former defensive coordinator Bob Trott.
During their three seasons together at James Madison, the two were part of an amazing run that included 37 wins in 43 games and an FCS national championship, along with a second straight trip to the title game that ended in a runnerup finish.
Trott’s defenses were among the best in the country over that stretch, ranking first among FCS programs in forced turnovers, interceptions and defensive pass efficiency while ranking second in scoring defense and fourth in sacks.
So it was only natural that when Houston decided to move up to the FBS level and take on the challenge of rebuilding the Pirates, Trott would be one of the assistants he would bring with him.
But as ECU’s five other coordinators since 2015 have learned — including David Blackwell, who like Trott, came to Greenville with gaudy numbers at the FCS level — you can’t simply wave a magic wand and fix something as broken as the Pirates’ defense has been.
Especially when the talent on the roster isn’t comparable to that of most other teams in the American Athletic Conference.
While ECU’s offense showed promising signs of growth in 2019 thanks to the emergence of quarterback Holton Ahlers and a array of young playmakers, its defense lagged far behind.
The Pirates finished 11th in the 12-team AAC and 111th nationally in scoring defense, allowing an average of 33.7 points per game. They ranked dead last and 119th nationally in total defense by allowing opponents to roll up 469.3 yards every time out and were torched for 41 or more points in five of their last six games.
Those numbers were a major reason why the Pirates could do no better than 4-8 in Houston’s first season.
And they were apparently enough for Houston to decide it was time to sever his relationship with Trott, who also coached ECU’s safeties, and find a new friend to run his defense.
In a tersely worded statement last Thursday, Houston announced that Trott’s contract would not be renewed for the upcoming 2020 season.
“Bob Trott is a good football coach and a great person,” Houston said in the release. “I have known him for 15 years and worked with him the last four seasons. I would like to thank him for his leadership and commitment, and I wish he and his family the best.
“This was a difficult decision, but one I feel is in the best interest of our football program moving forward.”
It is not known whether there was an incident or extenuating circumstance that precipitated a move that was surprising to say the least, considering that Trott was given only one season to put out a dumpster fire that had been smoldering for a long time before he arrived.
Perhaps Houston felt as though his long-time lieutenant wasn’t suited to handle the higher level of competition he was being asked to beat as an FBS coach.
Or maybe he simply felt the need to find a different voice with a different point of view from the one he’s used to hearing.
Either way, Trott’s dismissal — along with the recent retirement of linebackers coach Jeff Hanson — will give ECU’s defense a decidedly different look in 2020. What that look will be and whether it’s a change for the better will depend on the new set of friends Houston hires.
And how much time he gives them to get the job done.
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