NEWS, NOTES & COMMENTARY
The Bradsher Beat
Wednesday, September 12, 2012
By Bethany Bradsher
Berry's roots still extend to
(ULM SID photo)
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Packing boxes probably seems
like part of the furniture to Todd Berry. Through his 29-year career as a
college football coach, Berry and his wife have moved 15 times.
But even if his journey —
featuring stops as varied as New York, Florida, Illinois and Nevada — has
been a bit dizzying, Berry remembers his four years as East Carolina's
offensive coordinator with fondness and clarity.
And now that media outlets
from ESPN radio to the New York Times are pursuing Berry, he can’t help but
draw parallels between his current team’s rise and the Pirate teams of the
Since Saturday, Berry’s
University of Louisiana-Monroe Warhawks have been the toast of college
football. With a 34-31 overtime upset of No. 8 Arkansas, ULM wrote that
rarity — a true Cinderella story in the early season weeks when small teams
are expected to take their guarantee check, lie down and accept their
Of course, Berry knew his team
wouldn’t respond to the Razorbacks that way. He’s been in coaching long
enough to recognize a special team that is capable of overachieving, and
these Warhawks have the kind of tenacity and talent that Berry saw in the
ECU teams he helped coach to two consecutive Liberty Bowls in 1994 and 1995.
“We don’t have a lot of
Heisman trophy candidates on our team, but we’re not devoid of talent
either,” said Berry, who left the Pirates after that second Liberty Bowl to
take his first head coaching job at Illinois State. “We’re a lot like those
early East Carolina teams.”
Even if they only spent four
years with ECU, those were defining years for the Berry family, he said, and
his children were undoubtedly shaped by that period in their lives.
Pirate ties still pull
powerfully on Berry, and even down in Louisiana he has managed to keep some
ECU people around him. His director of football operations is Steve Logan’s
son Vince, and Robin Taylor (sports marketing) and Alex Edwards (media
relations) are also ECU products.
Suddenly, the spotlight is on
Berry, a 51-year-old coaching journeyman who brought Illinois State to the
I-AA playoffs twice but left his head coaching stint at Army after compiling
a 5-35 record in his years there.
His routine, small-town life
has been disrupted in a good way, so much so that he had to stay up until 3
a.m. Monday night watching film because he spent his normal working hours
talking to the media. That was also the day he received word that his team
had been named the Fiesta Bowl National Team of the Week.
Berry is incredibly proud of
his team for pulling out the victory that dropped Arkansas straight out of
the Top 25 and inspired T-shirts that read “The Shock in Little Rock.”
But the part of the game that
speaks most eloquently to his team’s character is this: The Warhawks’
national triumph came because they rallied from a 28-7 deficit.
“That says more for the future
than beating a No. 8 team,” he said. “Last season we had a lot of injuries
and we went through a lot of adversity together. This was kind of a
culminating event for us.”
When he thinks of his Pirate
years under Steve Logan, he remembers plenty of exercises in conquering
adversity. He relished the chance to rise above expectations when he wore
purple and gold, loved stoking the fire of a fan base in an overlooked
market with an undersized football budget. Monroe reminds him of Greenville,
he said, and he would love to see another spotlight-worthy moment come to
his old employer.
“There are very few people in
the country that can identify with some of the struggles, but the people
there in Greenville have already kind of gone through it,” he said. “You can
tell everybody that I’m using the same blueprint here.”
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