As former East Carolina coach Steve Logan said, “Winning solves problems, losing creates problems.”
The Pirates solved some problems and avoided some others with a 53-29 win over Coastal Carolina in the Birmingham Bowl on Dec. 27.
The question of offseason momentum for a program that opens 2023 at Michigan was answered in the affirmative.
Wins help coaches recruit better. Success begets success.
For strength and conditioning purposes, the specter of the matchup with the Wolverines will be mitigated by the reality that hard work paid off in the recently completed postseason. The Pirates need to keep chopping in the weight room.
ECU has already had a spring training in effect with the additional practices for the bowl game so spring practice will be a further opportunity to develop young players and address personnel voids from 2022.
Returning players can look at Holton Ahlers and the value of effort that was put in to build timing with the receivers during player-led workouts in the summer.
Coach Mike Houston and staff have built a culture that recognizes the importance of commitment and preparation.
That culture generated an 8-5 record in 2022, the program’s best mark since 2014.
Pecking order benefit
Beating Coastal put the Pirates at the top of Group of Five programs in the region.
The Chanticleers took a 35-28 win over Appalachian State in 2022 so ECU compares favorably with the Mountaineers in terms of performance against a common opponent.
ECU beat Old Dominion, 39-21, in the second game of 2022.
Those outcomes would help the Pirates if any Power Five conferences consider further expansion.
In addition to a $1.3 million payout for the Birmingham Bowl, there will be more positive financial consequences.
The fan base tends to have an attitude of “what can I do to help” when the flagship program is at full sail and that makes fundraising easier.
ECU is in the midst of a $60 million Pirates Unite drive that will include the construction of a long overdue indoor practice facility for football.
Such a facility is a severe need to show recruits and allow practice in bad weather. ECU is a have-not in the American Athletic Conference in terms of indoor workout space and that needs to change.
The vapor trail from the bowl trip also should enhance season ticket sales for 2023.
ECU football is regaining its desired status as a regional event after some down time due to poor performance and COVID restrictions
As 2023 took its baby steps, there was some news that will require adjustment with running back Keaton Mitchell announcing his plans to prepare for the NFL draft.
Mitchell was a threat from anywhere on the field with his speed and shiftiness. He had 1,452 yards on 201 carries with 14 touchdowns in 2022 and was first team All-AAC.
The loss of Ahlers, who threw for 3,704 yards and 28 TDs in his final season at ECU, means a significant overhaul of skill position players is at hand.
‘Mason Garcia has been groomed for several seasons at quarterback and the cupboard is hardly bare at running back.
Rahjai Harris had 238 yards and five scores on 67 carries in five games in 2022 before going out with a knee injury that required surgery. The Pirates also got snaps for true freshman Marlon Gunn and he responded with 344 yards on 67 rushes.
Shank’s duties changing
The Pirates have announced that Steve Shankweiler will step away from duties as offensive line coach for a support role within the program.
Coach Shank is in his fourth stint on the ECU staff, a span that dates back to the 11-1 season in 1991.
His unit enabled Ahlers and Mitchell to put up some gaudy offensive numbers in 2022.
Ahlers in Hula Bowl
Ahlers said following the bowl win that he will try to get a torn labrum in his right shoulder repaired before the Hula Bowl on Jan. 14.
The all-star game will be played at Central Florida’s FBC Mortgage Stadium, also known as the Bounce House.
The Pirates stand to set an attendance record in the 2023 opener at Michigan Stadium. The Big House seats 107,601, the largest capacity in college football.
The biggest road crowd ever to see ECU was 95,416 at Tennessee’s Neyland Stadium on Sept. 2, 1995.
Brandon Suggs will be back in Williams Arena at Minges Coliseum tonight for a 7 p.m. tipoff as East Carolina hosts Central Florida.
Suggs is averaging 7.1 points in 19.7 minutes with 3.5 rebounds for the Knights. who are 10-4 overall and 1-1 in the AAC. He averaged 10.1 points in 29.6 minutes with 4.1 rebounds at ECU last season.
The Pirates are 10-5 overall and 1-1 in the AAC.
Former ECU players Tristen Newton and Jayden Gardner are contributing to prominent programs. Newton is averaging 9.6 points for No. 4 Connecticut and Gardner was scoring 12.0 points per game for No. 11 Virginia going into a Tuesday night game at Pitt.