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View from the 'ville
Thursday, July 5, 2007

By Al Myatt

<<< GO TO PART ONE >>>

Offseason moves solidify Holtz' inner circle

Editor's note: This is the second article in a two-part series by senior columnist Al Myatt based on an interview with East Carolina head football coach Skip Holtz. Myatt's exchange with Holtz focused on aspects of the Pirates' offseason. Part one was published June 21, 2007.

By Al Myatt
All rights reserved.

When Skip Holtz and staff convene later this month, they will bunker down and formulate plans for the upcoming preseason practice and 2007 season.

The immediate focus in the planning sessions will be on preparing for the season opener at Virginia Tech at noon on Sept. 1. There are some new components to the staff chemistry, which has been a program strength in the Holtz era.

Personnel has changed slightly since ECU went 7-6 in 2006, its first winning season since 2000. The Pirates also made their first bowl trip since 2001. Don Yanowsky left his position as tight ends and special teams coach to join the staff at Boston College.

Another opening was created when defensive line coach Donnie Thompson was arrested on fraud charges regarding his ECU expense account. He was quickly dismissed by athletic director Terry Holland.

Going forward, Holtz has filled the voids in a manner that may make the staff even stronger.

Todd Fitch was brought in from Iowa State to be offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. He had worked with Holtz at Connecticut and South Carolina for a total of 10 years.

"Given the situation that we were kind of put into, I feel really good about the way we came out of it," said the Pirate skipper, who is entering his third season in Greenville. "There were two coaching changes, obviously. One with Coach Yanowsky — we made the decision to bring Todd Fitch in to work with the quarterbacks. He's someone that I'm very comfortable with and been together with for a long time.

"Obviously there are a lot of coaches on this staff who have worked with Coach Fitch. He brought a familiarity to the staff that everybody was very comfortable with. I don't think we missed a beat going into spring practice."

Holtz also had ties with new defensive ends coach Vernon Hargreaves, who was on his staff at Connecticut before becoming a defensive assistant at national power Miami.

"We had the unfortunate situation where we had to make a change with Coach Thompson," Holtz said. "Just turning and looking and looking at our staff, we just said 'What do we have to do to improve?' I felt like bringing Coach Hargreaves in here brings someone who knows the big game environment.

"He had been at Miami for a number of years. He's been in those big games and he understands what that level of play is all about. At the same time, be brings a wealth of special teams knowledge in. I think he was a very positive addition. We have a guy who fit the needs that we have."

Finding assistant coaches, Holtz said, involves considerations similar to recruiting.

"That's what recruiting is," he said. "It isn't necessarily going out and finding a five-star player. It's finding the guy who best suits where you are and what you need — from a camaraderie standpoint on your staff and at the same time being very knowledgeable."

Holtz said the process of a successful transition in terms of staff personnel has been taking place.

"I feel really positive about the two additions," said the ECU coach. "They're excellent football coaches. I've had an opportunity to work with both of them in the past. I think the transition to the staff — morale and chemistry — has been very positive."

The season opener will receive significant scrutiny with ESPN's GameDay telecast originating from Blacksburg, VA, prior to the national telecast on ESPN. The Hokies return eight starters from the nation's No. 1 defense. A tragic shooting rampage on April 16 that left 33 dead brought a great deal of attention to the Virginia Tech campus. The last three sessions of the Hokies' spring practice, including the spring game, were cancelled in the aftermath of the killings.

"The situation will make it a very emotional atmosphere, no doubt about that," Holtz said. "Having an opportunity at South Carolina to be around — we were the first game after 9-11. There were several things that both teams took part in to try and honor the people from 9-11. There may be things like that. I don't know all the details yet — this far out — but I'm sure there will be quite a few ceremonial things that will take place.

"It will be a very emotional time, not only for the Virginia Tech family, but for everybody that's going to be there in that stadium, both football teams included. We're looking forward to having the opportunity to contribute to the recognition of the number of people that lost their lives in that terrible tragedy that happened up there.

"At the same time, when the ball gets put on the tee, we're going up there to play a football game."

The Pirates' 2007 schedule is stacked with challenges. ECU returns home to face North Carolina at 6 p.m. on Sept. 8 and opens Conference USA play the following week against Southern Miss, which has dominated the series at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium by a 13-2 margin. The Golden Eagles are preseason favorites in the league race according to many forecasts.

"I think Coach (Jeff) Bower has done a great job there," Holtz said. "Look at the job he's done, his staff and his team. Southern Miss is year in and year out one of the competitive teams in the league.

"When you look at a league that a year ago we were picked dead last and we came a play away from winning the division. The year before Central Florida was picked last and they won the division. You're talking about a division and a league that is extremely competitive. The difference from the top to the bottom is not very big.

"I believe as a conference we have the smallest margin of victory among our conference games of any other conference in the country. It shows tremendous balance in this league. Obviously, it would be very hard to go away from Southern Miss and the success they've had over the years in this league."

But Holtz points out that it's not where teams are picked to start that's important, but where they finish up.

"It's preseason," he said. "It's preseason polls. Obviously, wherever they put us now is where they put us. We have a say in where we finish up at the end. We don't have a lot of say in where they put us at the beginning."


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08/23/2007 02:49:53 AM


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