College Sports in the Realm of Bonesville
Friday, October 29, 2004
Publisher & Editor
East Carolina football at
deserved a mulligan for East
Carolina’s miserable 2003 season. This season, however, is a different
Larger issues are so pressing that ECU cannot afford the luxury of
assuming for another year that the pieces are in place to heal its gravely
wounded football program.
When Thompson arrived in Greenville two years ago, he inherited the
reigns of a shell-shocked team — one that had endured unpleasantness to an
extreme, beginning with an uphill journey through a rare losing season in
2002 in the shadow of media accounts of the school’s administration sullying
the program’s reputation with its dubious handling of the
Friday Night Fiasco.
That challenging situation was transformed into a full-fledged crisis by
abrupt dismissal of Steve Logan, a
coach destined for the East Carolina Hall of Fame, for reasons that appeared
to be mainly related to then-athletic director Mike Hamrick’s frustration
with his years-long effort to goad Logan into leaving on his own.
Under those chaotic circumstances, it was unrealistic to expect Thompson
to stabilize overnight a Pirate ship that had been sabotaged below the
waterline from within.
Regardless of the state of affairs when he came aboard, Thompson has now
had a season and a half to rekindle at least a spark of the fire that fed a
culture of success in the program prior to his arrival. But instead of
evidence of a drive towards regaining their swagger, the Pirates have shown
no obvious progress from their 1-11 freefall of a year ago.
Thompson's ability as a head coach is fair game for criticism at this
point, especially in light of the strikingly shallow field of candidates he
was a part of that
had been brave enough to apply for the job during that highly-visible period
of dysfunction in ECU's campus and athletics
In retrospect, it appears that Thompson was handed a task much more
complex than he envisioned. On the other hand, it may simply be that his
demonstrated track record as a successful defensive coordinator doesn't
necessarily translate into proficiency as the top man.
The indications that the program is reeling are hard to ignore: a record
of 2-16 during J.T.’s stint on the job; the cancellation of ECU’s engagement
with Virginia Tech in this year’s BCA game; the snubbing of the Pirates by
the Big East Conference; and the complete elimination of ECU from the
national television mix.
After many years of frequent appearances on ESPN and ESPN2, that last
item is particularly damaging to the program’s recruiting efforts and its
hopes for recovery.
Without national TV in his arsenal, Thompson’s peculiar
obsession with out-of-state prospects is likely to perpetuate unacceptable
on-the-field results unless talent accompanied by off-the-field question
marks is imported into the program — a particularly unfortunate scenario
considering the untimely budgetary
stresses of an out-of-state recruiting focus.
With last Saturday’s
shellacking at Southern Mississippi
added to the team’s growing litany of poor outings, ECU’s new athletics
boss, Terry Holland, will by necessity be on the lookout for indications
that a turnaround is imminent.
Thompson's propensity for making strange coaching decisions — such as
last Saturday's botched fake punt less than 20 yards from ECU's own goal
line — won't help his case for more time to rebuild the program.
Holland, of course, won’t be the only one observing closely with a stake
in the matter as the rest of the season plays out. The program’s backers,
many of whom were caught off guard by some of the bizarre actions of Hamrick
in recent years — and by the inexplicable neglect of deposed former chancellor
William Muse and other higher-ups to intervene — are likely to be more
assertive than in the past about the path they wish for ECU to follow.
One course those underwriters of Pirate athletics wouldn’t be prone to
take lightly would be to accept the depressing status quo for a program
which is accustomed to sharing top billing with the Med School in terms of
ECU’s institutional pride and public profile.
Thompson still has
five games to influence those inside
the university to whom he reports and those outside the campus who fund the
cause. In addition to the scoreboard, his barometers will include the
ECU’s attendance for the Cincinnati game (29,332) was the lowest in more
than 15 years for the Pirates’ second home game of a season. The turnout for
the subsequent home game against Tulane (29,584) was also abysmal,
considering that it was Homecoming on a picture-perfect autumn day.
A Saturday home win over Army would seem to be a
mandatory first step for Thompson to
begin to build a case for keeping his job beyond this season. Win or lose,
the attendance number for the Black Knights' biennial visit — which has
never dipped below 38,000 over the years — will be a focus of attention.
With dwindling ticket revenues,
faltering Pirate Club donations and
increasingly-elusive opportunities for national TV exposures at stake — and
perhaps a final shot at membership in the Big East on the horizon — the
assumption here is that Holland is already pondering the options in the
event that unmistakable signs that the program is on the mend don’t
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02/23/2007 01:37:42 AM