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College Sports in the Realm of Bonesville

Friday, September 3, 2004

By Danny Whitford

J.T. deserves second honeymoon

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• PAT DYE: Short on Tenure, Long on Impact
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• KEITH LECLAIR on ECU's Field of Dreams
• BETH GRANT: Actress Still a Pirate



From the day he arrived in Greenville, John Thompson was destined for a tumultuous baptism. In essence, he was the right man in the wrong place at the wrong time.

It is clear that Thompson was hired as East Carolina’s football coach by an administration that is viewed in retrospect by many as illegitimate, one which took a string of monumentally ill-advised actions that shook the campus to its foundation and fractured the very underpinning of ECU’s athletics flagship.

As the proud program’s fans size up J.T.’s performance, the circumstances leading up to and in the months after his hiring should not detract from their appraisal of his qualifications or his potential as skipper of the Pirate ship.

When he agreed to succeed the summarily fired Steve Logan, one gets the impression that the perpetually-positive Thompson — whose prior perceptions of the ECU program almost certainly were characterized by respect and admiration — had no inkling of the depth of the shock within the football team over the startling upheaval of the program.

He also had no way of knowing the gravity of the civil war that was raging inside the Pirate Nation over the men that hired him.

Regardless of the discredited regime that appointed him, Thompson’s credentials are genuine. He has been associated with some of the most respected programs in college football and his defensive expertise is an element around which the Pirates can rebuild.

On the other hand, Thompson stumbled badly in year one in some impossible-to-ignore ways, particularly in his nonchalant neglect to intervene in then-offensive coordinator Rick Stockstill’s egregious mismanagement of what should have been the team’s primary strength — an offensive unit that returned enough talent from the previous year to continue putting up the bushels of points it was accustomed to.

Still, that former chancellor William Muse and former athletics director Mike Hamrick would each leave town under a cloud in the months subsequent to Thompson’s hiring undermined what should have been a honeymoon year for the coach, regardless of the first-year mistakes.

In retrospect, J.T. had a colossal task dumped into his lap upon his appointment as head coach: salvaging a sucker-punched football program left floundering on the rocks by a pair of blundering, self-immersed administrators. In some ways, his work in the face of such adversity was admirable. In others, it was questionable.

In any event, Thompson deserves a full Mulligan and 2003 should be chalked up to experience.

Now, with a 1-11 campaign behind him and a chance for a season of redemption in front of him, it is important for East Carolina’s fans and current administrators to recognize the chaotic circumstances under which Thompson was hired and to hold the coach blameless for the immediate aftermath — which included last season.

Thompson has shown no signs of flinching, even under dire circumstances, and gives the distinct impression that he is anxious to stay the course until the mission of restoring Pirate football to its rightful place is carried out.

Bottom line: New chancellor Steve Ballard should give J.T. a public vote of confidence and a solid sense of job security until the coach has had a fair chance to right the ship free of the albatross that wrapped itself around his neck upon his arrival.

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02/23/2007 01:37:41 AM

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