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Thompson's role increasing in significance

By Denny O'Brien

The post-game slants
and audio bytes, as
penned and digitally
recorded by staff
writer Denny O'Brien.

Game No. 3 Vitals: ECU at Miami

• J.T.'s role increasing in significance
• Hurricanes blow past pesky Pirates
• Box Score & Statistics
• Audio: J.T. and ECU players
• C-USA Standings, Schedule & Sores
• ECU Schedule, Scores & Links

MIAMI — On a night that followed the resignation of its chancellor, which occurred just days after its second-consecutive blowout loss, the East Carolina football program was in desperate need of good news.

In the end, it had to settle for significant progress that wasn't reflected on the scoreboard.

A trademark win over a heavily-favored foe would have been the dream ticket. One of those dramatic come-from-behind victories — the type that over the years has been ushered by a determined quarterback whose intense stare was the signature for one more riveting chapter in ECU's Cinderella history.

It just wasn't to be against No. 2 Miami. On the other hand, even though East Carolina was unable to weave another thread into the quilt that for decades has defined a program that performed best with its back against the wall, the Pirates finally showed signs of life Saturday.

Though the score — 38-3 — may not have been reflective of a team that made strides, the Pirates obviously took a step forward at what has become a volatile time in the saga of East Carolina University.

Now, without a chancellor or permanent athletics director of which to speak, first-year Pirates coach John Thompson has inherited the job of point man for a university stuck at a crossroads. Saturday night at the Orange Bowl, the signs were there that he is capable of stepping up to the challenge.

"We earned respect for three quarters," Thompson said. "We've got to make it a four-quarter game. We did some good things for 48 minutes. We battled them. We asked our guys to compete every down. We asked our guys to keep fighting, and we did that."

They couldn't have picked a better time.

Dr. William V. Muse's resignation has magnified Thompson's role in seaming a division that slowly has ripped through the Pirate ranks. Once the model for stability and unity — especially during times of adversity — Pirates fans lately have mirrored the tumultuous leadership of the school they unconditionally love.

Needless to say, the Pirate Nation is in desperate need of a captain who can restore order and heal wounded pride.

"This team is together," Thompson said. "That's probably the most pleasant feeling if there is one out there with this team."

The next step?

Transcend that to a university mired in a civil war.

Though it may seem an unfair request of a football coach — let alone one just three games into his tenure — that is the unfortunate reality in which East Carolina currently exists. It also is a task that, in the past, has been embraced by several Pirates skippers.

Ed Emory did it in the early 80s. Bill Lewis and Steve Logan took turns in the 90s.

When there hasn't been Leo Jenkins-type leadership in the chancellor's office, football coaches historically have shouldered the load of putting forth the school's image in a fashion that inspires loyalty among the constituency and respect elsewhere.

"Our job is just to keep working with this football team," Thompson said. I love this football team. I love our guys and what they're made of. We're going to get it done. We will get it done."

Saturday night against Miami may have been the first evidence that supports such a notion.

That ECU didn't fold when many figured it would suggests Thompson might have the makeup of a man who can fill a much-needed leadership void.

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This page updated: 02/23/2007 01:52:10 AM.

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