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College Sports in the Carolinas


View from the East
Monday, October 27, 2003

By Al Myatt
ECU Beat Writer for The News & Observer

Go-down-fighting method creates sparks


John Thompson had a little more adrenaline flowing than usual after a 36-20 loss to Louisville at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium on Saturday.

He had seen the Cardinals outscore the Pirates 23-7 in the fourth quarter — including an apparently unplanned 42-yard run to the end zone by Louisville reserve T.J. Patterson as time expired.

When they met at midfield after the Conference USA contest, Thompson and Louisville coach Bobby Petrino exchanged words about the final seconds which had produced that concluding touchdown. Petrino asked Thompson why he had called several timeouts in the final seconds and Thompson said he was just trying to compete.

Down 30-20, the Pirates coach must have been hoping for a score off a turnover and then maybe a successful onside kick to get possession for a tying field goal. It was a long shot, for sure, but Thompson wasn’t apologizing.

“We are going to fight to the end and we are going to call timeouts ’til the end,” he said. “Our job is to stop them. That’s the bottom line. ... I’ll coach my team. That’s the only team I can coach. ... I don’t give a durn how bad we’re behind, we’re not going in with timeouts. Who does that? If you do that, that’s a give up.”

Petrino had said the late ECU timeouts led to the closing score. Petrino said he planned to let reserves run one play — because they had asked to — and then take a knee to run out the clock.

“He was over there calling timeouts,” Petrino said. “As long as he was calling timeouts, we had to get a first down. Otherwise, if we take a knee, they get the ball back. So he wasn’t very smart calling timeouts.”

Thompson may have felt the Cardinals were running up the score. As Petrino headed for his locker room, Thompson said, “I’ll remember that. That’s fine.”

The teams may meet just one more time in Conference USA if Louisville heads for the Big East as expected. There may be a little extra emotion next year at Papa John Stadium based on the coaches’ postgame episode. Then again, there are no guarantees that they will play. ECU misses C-USA foes UAB and TCU on this year’s schedule.

Thompson and Petrino have matched up before, with their most recent encounter being last season when Thompson was defensive coordinator at Florida and Petrino was offensive coordinator at Auburn. The Gators pulled out a 30-23 win in overtime in Gainesville.

The coaches’ paths also crossed when Thompson was defensive coordinator at Southern Miss and Memphis and Petrino was directing the offense at Louisville.

Thompson’s postgame mood reminded me of that song, “You’re walking on the fighting side of me.” I’m not sure who did it or if that’s the right title. Maybe it was Johnny Cash but Thompson had to do his best to get a grip on his feelings after ECU fell to 1-7 with one of its best efforts this season.

“These guys are fighters,” Thompson said as he opened his postgame news conference. He went on to refer to “fighters,” “fought,” “fight ’em,” “fighting,” “fight” or “battled” an unofficial total of 20 times in his postseason remarks.

Postgame news conferences must be tough on coaches. They’re not supposed to blame the referees. They don’t want to fault their own players. They want to be positive and they have to respond to questions from reporters who generally know less about the game and their programs than the coaches do. It surely takes great patience and understanding.

Add to it a great desire for your team to have more to show for its efforts than the assurance of a losing season with no bowl trip and it can probably be very difficult. It comes at the end of an 80-hour week and 180 minutes of war. That’s a tough line to walk and no one can understand it better than the opposing coach. When that moment of commiseration at midfield with a colleague turns confrontational, it’s unfortunate.

AD search

The committee that will direct the search for an athletics director has been formed. It includes interim chancellor William Shelton and board of trustees chairman James R. Talton of Raleigh. Prominent donor John P. Hudson of Durham will represent the booster segment. George Koonce, a former ECU and NFL player, should provide an athlete’s perspective. The group also includes board of trustees members Margaret Ward of Burlington and Steven Showfety of Greensboro.

Former ECU and Auburn baseball coach Hal Baird, now senior associate athletics director at Auburn, is one possible candidate whose name keeps coming up. Dave Hart indicated he is secure at Florida State despite some recent turmoil.

“You’ve got to expect that when you have one of the top football programs in the country,” Hart said recently.

One source said he doubted ECU alumnus Jeff Barber, currently in athletics administration at South Carolina, would get serious consideration.

The committee should be looking for a proven administrator with an ability to unite the ECU community and connections to enhance the Pirates’ pursuit of the most desirable conference affiliation.

It may be January before the position is filled.

Carolinas pecking order

N.C. State still sits atop the rankings of the Division I-A football programs in the Carolinas, which, incidentally, remain the same from top to bottom as last week.


Here’s how the Division I-A teams in the Carolinas stack up:

  1. (1) N.C. State (6-3, 3-2 ACC) ... Wolfpack gets another challenge from Duke before winning 28-21.

  2. (2) Clemson (5-3, 3-2 ACC) ... Tigers get a kickoff return for a score and turn back UNC.

  3. (3) South Carolina (5-3, 2-3 SEC) ... Gamecocks get a victory over Vanderbilt, 35-24, on Saturday night.

  4. (4) Wake Forest (4-4, 2-3 ACC) ... Deacons fall at Florida State as Bobby Bowden tops Joe Paterno on win list.

  5. (5) North Carolina (1-7, 0-4 ACC) ... Tar Heels come up short as Darian Durant fumbles at goal line.

  6. (6) Duke (2-6, 0-5 ACC) ... First game under interim coach Ted Roof is competitive.

  7. (7) East Carolina (1-7, 1-3 C-USA) ... John Thompson has a personal homecoming this week at Memphis.

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02/23/2007 12:41:32 AM

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