Thompson's task now tougher
||The post-game slants
and audio bytes, as
penned and digitally
recorded by staff
Game No. 12 Vitals: ECU vs. USM
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
"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
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
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
"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.