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Thompson's task now tougher

By Denny O'Brien

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

Game No. 12 Vitals: ECU vs. USM

• Thompson's task now tougher
• USM finds C-USA crown in Greenville
• Box Score & Statistics
• Post-Game Audio: J.T. & Players
• Season-to-date game-by-game links

GREENVILLE — Now the ink can dry on the worst chapter in East Carolina football history. For a fan base whose happiness is dictated by the unpredictable bounce of the pigskin, it couldn't have come soon enough.

When the final cannon sounded at the end of the Pirates' 38-21 loss to Southern Miss Saturday, it was muffled by a giant exhale of relief from the stands.

Maybe now, the Purple Nation can mend the gaping wounds that for a year have divided it.

The baptism by fire behind him, first-year coach John Thompson insisted he never longed for the final whistle of the 2003 campaign to blow, but that now he's ready to turn to the future.

"I didn't wish for this season to be over," he said in the post-game press conference. "I didn't like it in the fourth quarter when this season was over. I don't think there was minute that I said, 'Man, I'll be glad when this thing is over.'

"Not going to do that. It's over now. I'm looking forward to recruiting. I'm looking forward to evaluating everything I have done and everything that has gone on with this football team."

Perhaps it was fitting that rival Southern Miss hammered the final nail in the coffin. The Golden Eagles are Conference USA's portrait of stability, a label to which East Carolina once subscribed.

Former Pirates skipper Steve Logan was the East Coast version of USM coach Jeff Bower, but was guillotined by ECU's previous administration last December. Many among the rank and file still are bewildered by the decision to ouster the coach who spent 11 years building a royal purple empire.

To them, the wrong sailor was shoved off the plank.

Those who did support Logan's controversial termination banked on a quick resurrection under the fiery, enthusiastic Thompson. Instead, they got a one-win desecration more painful than a root canal.

"This season has been a tremendous challenge in every regard, but we held together," Thompson said. "This team didn't break. This coaching staff didn't break.

"The chemistry on the team, on the coaching staff didn't break — not going to. Now, we use this and we go get better."

In fairness, Thompson should be commended for the effort his team continuously put forth. The Pirates had every reason to call it a season after the Carolina loss, but competed every week as if they were national contenders.

To be honest, few expected Thompson to hoist the C-USA brass in year one. That's a feat even his predecessor was unable to accomplish.

On the other hand, Thompson did inherit a club that returned most of its starters and figured to improve on a .500 league mark. As it turned out, the Pirates were lucky enough to escape West Point — hardly Title Town — with a six-point win.

Still, Thompson receives his rookie mulligan, though he created little breathing room for the post-honeymoon period.

"I've said this, I'd go back and do things differently, but there are a lot of things that had to be done at the time," Thompson said. "Now, if we turn the page, we move on to another area that we've got to focus on.

"I know so many areas that I've got to get better at. I've got to start with me and getting better."


The comfort zone Thompson enjoyed during the off-season got less cozy this fall. Armchair quarterbacks within the media and in the bleachers have questioned everything from personnel decisions to the playbook.

Ultimately, though, the Pirates coach must answer to the athletics director and chancellor, and both of those positions are currently are filled by men with interim labels. If neither Nick Floyd nor Bill Shelton become permanent in their roles, Thompson will be working for superiors who had no hand in his hiring, and with whom he has no relationship.

In almost any situation, that equation is enough to make any coach nervous.

By default, Thompson gets a free pass despite a disastrous season. Given that college athletics are driven by wins and the almighty dollar, he may not have that luxury if the scenario is similar next year.

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This page updated: 02/23/2007 01:52:18 AM.

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