View from the East
Friday, March 18, 2016

By Al Myatt

Al Myatt

Montgomery applying NFL experience

East Carolina football coach Scottie Montgomery at last month's signing day press conference (Photo by Al Myatt)



Long night for Pirates

GREENVILLE East Carolina's youthful midweek pitching corps was no match for the meat of the North Carolina order as an eight-run outburst in the second inning served as a launching pad for a 17-4 Tar Heels win on Tuesday night.

A crowd of 5,213, the third largest ever at Clark-LeClair Stadium and biggest this season, saw the Pirates strike first but the excitement of a possible third straight win over UNC didn't last long. ... Story, pictures & postgame audio...

Pictured: East Carolina met on the mound often in a 17-4 home loss to North Carolina Tuesday evening as eight different pitchers made appearances against the Tar Heels. (W.A. Myatt photo)

Post-game audio: Godwin, Voliva, Yorgen...

Next: Monmouth at ECU | Friday, 6:30 pm



Magic in short supply for ECU hoops

For East Carolina it was a case of one and done in the American Athletic Conference Tournament. In the city that houses the Magic Kingdom and in the arena that is the home of the Orlando Magic there would be nothing magical about the Pirates ... More from Brian Bailey...

Audio: The Brian Bailey Show

The Brian Bailey Show airs on Pirate Radio 1250 on Mondays at 6:30 p.m. Brian's guest this week was state champion Farmville Central basketball coach Larry Williford (right): Replay show...



Star receiver kickstarts class of 2017

Caleb King helped coach three state 3-A championship teams in seven seasons as an assistant at Havelock High School. During that tenure, King also participated in the development of major-college prospects ... More from Sammy Batten...

Thumbnail sketches: Class of 2017 | Class of 2016



Rice rallies to take series

HOUSTON   Rice erased a 1-0 deficit with four runs in the eighth inning to top East Carolina 4-1 on Sunday in the deciding contest of a three-game series. The Pirates had taken a 1-0 lead in the fourth ... More...

Next: North Carolina at ECU | Tuesday, 6:30 pm



Rice evens series with East Carolina

HOUSTON   Rice scored four runs in the bottom of the sixth inning after East Carolina had come back from a 2-0 deficit to tie the score and the host Owls took a 7-2 win in the second game of a nonconference series Saturday afternoon. Rice bounced back from a 10-1 loss to the No. 16 Pirates in the series opener on Friday night. ... More...



Big inning seals ECU win at Rice

HOUSTON   Eric Tyler led off the eighth inning with a solo homer to left and East Carolina added five more runs in the frame to win 10-1 at Rice on Friday night. ECU's Evan Krucyznski (2-0) scattered seven hits in seven innings. Game two of a three-game set is scheduled for 3 p.m. (ET) today. ... More...


By Al Myatt
All rights reserved.


Just like daylight savings time, the East Carolina football team is looking to spring ahead with its first offseason practices under new coach Scottie Montgomery and his staff.

The Pirates officially got started in spring ball on Wednesday and will put the culmination of their efforts on display with the Purple-Gold game at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium on April 16 at 2 p.m.

"Yes, indeed," Montgomery said. "This is what it's all about, being able to get back out on the grass. You're always happy when you get a chance to get out and coach a little bit."

Montgomery has something that a lot of college coaches don't have NFL experience as a player and a coach. Having been involved with the game at its highest level is an advantage the new skipper intends to put to good use.

"You learn a lot about the game of football in the National Football League," Montgomery said. "I would say more than any other place you could be at because of what you're faced with."

Counting exhibitions and playoffs Montgomery often experienced over 20 games per NFL season.

"You get a lot of football," he said. "The amount of knowledge you're able to gain from an Xs and Os standpoint is second to none."

Montgomery played wide receiver for the Denver Broncos for three seasons from 2000 to 2002. He coached wide receivers for the Pittsburgh Steelers from 2010 to 2012.

The NFL background also impacts Montgomery's recruiting and his relationships with players.

"Everyone here will tell you that I love our players but because I love our players I have to be extremely strict and stern on them," Montgomery said. "We do what we have to do to make sure that they become the men that they're supposed to become. We do lean on our National Football League experience. There's more than me in this building with National Football League background that can help our players. We try to let them know we've coached the best players in the world. I've coached Antonio Brown, Hines Ward and been in offenses with the most prolific passers at the time, Ben Roethlisberger. I've been on defenses that were consistently top five defenses in the National Football League.

"Those are things we use from a recruiting standpoint but the biggest recruiting tool we have is the relationships that we're going to build. We do want to get them to the National Football League and we want people to come here that want to go to the National Football League. What they fail to realize when they come here is we want them to be National Football League players on the field and off the field. We want them to be spectacular citizens. Those things combined the relationship building, the National Football League experience and the expertise of our coaches we use that in recruiting quite a bit."

Just as the NFL takes account of factors other than playing ability, so do Montgomery and his staff in bringing recruits aboard the Pirate ship.

"One thing that we did in the evaluation process of going out and evaluating talent in the National Football League and the same thing we do here is that there are certain rounds you take guys in," Montgomery said. "That round is created from a lot of different deals. Red flags. Ability on the field. Ability to learn or FBI, as we like to call it, football intelligence. All of those things combine and why would you want your character to take you from being a first-round talent all the way down to a seventh-round talent and affect your family from a financial standpoint but also affect your pecking order of where you enter a team?

"I don't think it's any different in college. I think when we go out in our evaluation process, we like to start on the transcript. We also like to look at the back portion of the transcript that has tardies and absences. We need to have a good understanding of why someone was absent before we offer them. Of course, the football part of it, they have to be spectacular players to be able to be here and play football here.

"The National Football League understands that (players) are a direct investment. Their background will show sooner or later and hopefully you get guys in that will continue to grow and mature. Same way here. We're just four years removed from where they are."

First day out

Spring won't actually arrive until Sunday but the first day of spring practice on Wednesday was special for the former Duke player and offensive coordinator. His coaches need to be in shape to direct an up-tempo practice.

"Just impressed with our coaching staff," Montgomery said. "Impressed. I pressed them a lot the last three weeks to get this practice the way it needed to be and we worked like heck all the time trying to make sure that we're as efficient as we can be in practice.

"They need to understand the tempo. They had to be in shape for practice. They need to understand how we move from drill to drill. Our support staff our trainers, our managers, our assistant coaches they went out and they had a dominant day. I couldn't say enough about how they went out and practiced because I am demanding and it's tough to practice the way that we practice but our players are only going to be as good as the way we drive practices.

"I was just really, really impressed with the way that we drove practice (Wednesday) from a coaching standpoint. And then from a players' standpoint, the excitement, the energy, the want-to. We're at a point where we've still got a lot to learn but our guys are in tremendous shape right now. We've still got a long way to go from a shape standpoint but Coach (Jeff) Connors has gotten our guys into fantastic shape and they're ready to go. We had guys finishing at the end of practice. We sprint. We condition at the end of practice as well.

"It's about getting us better and getting us ready for the next day but our challenge as a coaching staff, I told our guys (Thursday) morning will we be as a staff better (Friday) than we were (Wednesday)? That's what we have to continue to do. We have to continue to get better from a staff standpoint, from a coaching standpoint and our players have to continue to grasp our concepts better and then make more plays and understand our defensive scheme and our offensive scheme to the point of where we can go out and we can execute at the highest level."

Injury factor

Montgomery said at the outset of spring practice that inside linebacker Devaris Brunson (knee), inside linebacker Drayvon Fairley (knee), defensive back Bobby Fulp (shoulder), wide receiver Isaiah Jones (shoulder), outside linebacker Dayon Pratt (back) and defensive back Travon Simmons (shoulder) would be out for the offseason sessions.

Running back Marquez Grayson and offensive lineman Darius Anderson have been dismissed for violating team rules.

Injuries are part of the game and so is establishing discipline.

"That's as big a part of our business as anything else is injuries," Montgomery said. "How we deal with injuries right now is next man up. ... When you're off the field it's much harder to learn because physical reps are much better than mental reps."

Jones is a proven talent and so are some others to a degree.

They'll be able to impact our depth chart (in preseason camp)," Montgomery said. "We're not holding anything against them at this time of year. A lot of times they're injured because of the work that they've done during the year the blood and the sweat that goes into a football game. This is an unfortunate part of our business where we do have surgeries and different injuries that come along."

Absence does make the heart grow fonder in football, not when coaches are getting to know players and developing an appreciation for their abilities.

"Right now we're able to evaluate as coaches," Montgomery said. "We're getting closer to the guys that are on our field. If they have an ability to be on the field, they need to be on the field. This is one of those things where you sit out and you watch for awhile and someone is getting better no matter what you think. Somebody is getting better and at the end of spring ball our coaches have built a certain relationship with certain people. ... We do understand the importance of being able to get healthy and we respect that as well."

Pair of freshmen on hand

Two freshmen from the signing class, announced Feb. 3, enrolled at ECU in January, Cortez Herrin, an offensive lineman, and Colby Gore, a defensive back.

"They are right in the middle of our spring drills," Montgomery said. "We are monitoring them to make sure that they are ready to get out and compete against 22- and 23-year-old men. Knock on wood, Wednesday was their first day so far so good. I don't talk a lot about freshmen. I don't like talking a lot about freshmen. I'm talking about them from a physical standpoint. I'm not talking about them from a football standpoint because they haven't earned it. From a physical standpoint, Coach (Connors) has put them in a position to come out and at least compete.

"I'll have to answer the questions about what they can do later because this is a grown man's sport. If you come into this sport and you're not ready physically, it will make you look a little different than the rest of the people out there."

Quarterback competition

The quarterback position during a 5-7 season in 2015 was handled by Blake Kemp and James Summers. Kemp transferred and Summers has moved back to receiver, which is where he was before last year's projected starter, Kurt Benkert, was lost for the season Aug. 25 with a knee injury.

Benkert is back and is competing with Minnesota/Rutgers transfer Philip Nelson for snaps. Former coach Ruffin McNeill used to talk about the unity among Pirate quarterbacks and that apparently has not changed.

"It's amazing because I've never seen two guys or a complete room of guys compete the way they're competing yet still helping one another," Montgomery said. "This is new for me. Because they're such good quarterbacks, we're going to be in good hands no matter what. The other part of it is with a National Football League background and watching quarterbacks compete or for different positions, it's usually 'You do what you do, I'm going to do what I do' and whoever is the quarterback in the end, that's what it's going to be.

"You're not getting any help from me. Don't ask me a question about this or that but these guys are all in it together. I truly believe they're friends and they're working really hard to become the starting quarterback. I'm looking forward to seeing how it all unfolds. It's one of those situations where we do have to evaluate it daily. It's a constant daily evaluation. What they've heard from me is, 'I want to see consistent football.' I want to see guys taking care of the football but you have to make the big plays when big plays present themselves. You have to be consistent in doing it. If we have a person in there that's going to waste plays, that won't be the person that's in there when we hit Dowdy-Ficklen."

Benkert and Nelson are the most likely suspects for the starting job but Montgomery left the door open.

"(Benkert and Nelson) would be the main characters in the movie, but we haven't sent it to Hollywood by any means," Montgomery said. "We're having auditions. As the audition process happens, sometimes there's a guy that no one knows about that comes in and could potentially steal the leading role (John Jacobs?). What I would say right now is we are in the audition mode. Those are the guys that came highly recommended. They have put in a lot of time this offseason. They're two polished quarterbacks at this point in time but they've still got a lot to learn and they have to continue to grow the relationship with Coach (Tony) Petersen (offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach)."

Running backs have numbers as well

There is personnel to sort through at running back as well.

"I've been very fortunate the last two places I've been (Duke and the Steelers) to be blessed with not good backs but great backs," Montgomery said. "Right here we're at the same place. We've got guys here that look the part. We haven't put pads on and I am reluctant to say how a back carries the ball until I see him tackled.

"We do have numbers and we look the part. Our guys have worked really hard this offseason. I love the way we look. We're lean. We're also physically strong. We look like we know how to carry the football at this point in time but we have not been tackled. We've been tagged off. I'm probably a pretty decent running back if we're just tagging off. ... The proof is in the pudding. I want to see these guys get tackled. Then we'll start to comment on how that pecking order will work out."

Incidentally, Montgomery had five rushes for 32 yards in the NFL and never fumbled. He also made eight tackles in the league and returned 15 kickoffs for 370 yards. When he's listed as a receiver who caught 16 passes for 160 yards with one score, it's not really doing his versatility justice.

Search for corners

The Pirates lost starting cornerbacks Josh Hawkins and Rocco Scarfone from the 2015 team that went 3-5 in the American Athletic Conference.

"That's a big emphasis going in," Montgomery said. "I thought Wednesday our corners had a great start and I told them that. I don't give sugar out very much. There's a couple of guys I thought really had great days of practice at the corner position.

"I didn't tell them who they were. I just kind of collectively told them as a group. I thought certain ones performed at a level that will be conducive to us winning a lot of football games. I'm going to continue to challenge them. They're going to be challenged every day with speed and athleticism on the other side of the football. We have to continue to develop that position. We knew that. We're happy with where some people are. They're going to continue to get better and better. We've got to catch the ones they throw to us, too. That's the biggest deal. That's the level of confidence that you have when you know what you're doing."

Rick Smith was defensive coordinator and secondary coach for the Pirates the last three years.

"Coach Smith is coaching them, just coaching the corners and the secondary," Montgomery said. "I think that's going to make all the difference in the world. Watching his individual drills (Wednesday) the energy and the passion and the detail in which he's coached them and the way they're listening and the way the leader in the group right now is trying to lead. He's not trying to be someone he's not. All we ask him to do is be their best self. That's what we're all concentrating on right now. So the corner position, we think is going to get better quickly. We feel we have the necessary pieces for it to grow into a really solid position."

Adjustments all around

While the players adjust to a new staff and schemes, Montgomery is making the transition from offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach and associate head coach at Duke to head coach at East Carolina.

Sometimes, he concedes, it's lonely at the top.

"It's harder in the building than it is outside the building because I don't have a (position) room," he said. "The entire building is my room. I miss the relationship that I had with the quarterbacks. Sitting in that quarterback room that's a different type of room. I also miss being able to lead the offensive meetings. You miss that when you're in the building. When I'm on the field. Coach Cut (Duke coach David Cutcliffe), we ran practice in kind of different ways. I had to be all over the field, coaching each position. I was coaching my quarterbacks but just coaching each position on the field.

"That adjustment is something I was probably a little bit more prepared for than the in-the-building adjustment. There's a certain level of loneliness that comes when the coaches are all meeting with their groups across the building. I'm in here watching (tape of) practice or putting together the script for the next phase of practice and doing my head coaching duties. That's tough. Every now and then I get to sneak in the defensive meeting rooms and offensive meeting rooms.

"But it is different to be the one leading the offensive charge and coordinating and every day having everybody work so tightly together. Right now my mode I would say is evaluating everything. I'm just in a complete evaluation mode from practice, practice schedule, practice planning, coaches, players, managers, trainers. I'm just in complete evaluation mode right now."

Recruiting to ECU as compared to Duke

East Carolina's identity is that of a regional university.

There are similarities to recruiting at Duke and ECU. There are differences, too.

"Recruiting starts with relationships," Montgomery said. "I didn't bring a single person in here who wasn't willing to be on the phone at 10:30, 11 o'clock, 11:30 at night trying to get it done. OK? It's about the relationships that you build. First and foremost, a lot of people talk about the schools and different things. We're all preaching the best points of our schools but we also have to do a good job of selling what type of people we are and how that directly correlates and affects the lives of the humans that we're bringing on to our campus. That's the first thing.

"As far as the recruiting here versus there, I'll say this in the East where we're spending a lot of time recruiting, we started our recruiting really hard here in the East for '17, for '18, for '19. We are the school at the East. It feels really good. We have great relationships here. Our coaches have worked really hard building these relationships quickly with our high school coaches. It's been great. The difference is Duke would probably be more of a national recruiter because of certain guidelines that they have. We have a footprint. That footprint, our coaches know, is very important to continue to build those relationships where at Duke we had to be good every single time out. We had to go out and build a new relationship. Here, we're cultivating relationships. We're trying to make them stronger and stronger and stronger. We like to get in our car and drive 30 or 40 miles or an hour and 15 minutes or an hour and a half here. Certain other places that you hear about, that's hard to do because of some of the guidelines that they have.

"We want to take our guys here. We want to play well here. We like our footprint."

Scrimmages prior to the spring game closed

Scrimmages on April 2 and April 9 will be closed to the public.

"Yeah, they will be," Montgomery said. "We're not opening right now. We want our coaches to coach and we want them to coach freely. People will get to see the product. Also, no one really knows what we're doing as a first-year staff. That's talking about the people on the outside. There's a certain level that we can continue to conceal and people not knowing what we're doing. They think they know but they don't know. Until we get to the spring game (April 16) and I can completely control what we do in that spring game, that's when we'll let people in.

"It's a strategic move, but also it gives our kids a chance to learn what we're trying to do and our coaches a chance to coach as hard as they want to coach without worrying about what's being seen, what's being talked about. We feel really comfortable with doing it that way."

Taking over from previous staff

Montgomery has essentially brought a new staff with new schemes to the program.

He's putting his fingerprints on the footprint that is ECU.

"We don't know what they did," Montgomery said. "That's the one thing I said. We weren't going to talk about the previous staff with our coaches or our players or any of that. No matter what, we're going back to the foundation. ... I talked to our coaches this morning. There have been some good football coaches around here. Please believe that. Really good football coaches.

"That's not our job to critique. ... It's our job to go down to the foundation and make sure the foundation is settled and not look around. We're just going to build from the foundation and build up because our way is definitely going to be different than anyone else's way.

"We will say this. We're very appreciative of the work that they've done. Our guys are football people. They have great football intelligence and we're building on that. Our guys understand that."

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