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Read Denny O'Brien's feature on Scott Cowen's confrontation with the Bowl Championship Series in Bonesville Magazine.

Pirate Notebook No. 224
Tuesday, January 11, 2005

By Denny O'Brien
Staff Writer and Columnist

Academic woes complicate rebuilding task



It's been over a month since John Thompson held the title of East Carolina head football coach. But that hasn't stopped the aftershocks of his brief reign in Greenville from rippling through the program.

That starting quarterback James Pinkney no longer is enrolled at ECU is a major blow to a program seeking to regain its footing. Not only does it signify the difficult transition the Pirates could face with a new leader in the huddle, it also surfaces more questions about the severity of the situation new coach Skip Holtz inherits.

This latest tremor has damaged the program's image. Now the Down East school historically known for manufacturing high-profile quarterbacks invites the perception that it no longer cares enough to keep them in the factory.

At least that's the message that resonates with Pinkney's inability to meet the university's minimum academic requirements — a message that was punctuated when news emerged late last week that tight end Guy Whimper also was no longer enrolled in school.

It's not the kind of fallout that was contemplated as a product of turning the reigns of ECU football over to Thompson before the 2003 season, but it is the current climate in which Holtz must survive until the appropriate measures are taken to prevent similar tragedies from occurring again.

"We want to graduate (players)," Thompson said in his inaugural press conference. "We want to make a difference in young people's lives."

No question, Pinkney is answerable for not producing in the classroom. It's his responsibility to attend lectures, complete assignments, and pass tests.

Ideally, that is the number one priority of any student-athlete.

Still, a head coach's accountability extends much further than his team's results on the field. As the primary caretaker of the program, he is charged with staying abreast of each player's' academic progress.

At the bare minimum, that means establishing and maintaining solid relations with university professors and the academic support staff, an area of known weakness under Thompson. As was the case for most of the previous decade, there also should be scheduled mandatory study sessions and a strict disciplinary process in place that will motivate players to produce high marks.

A game or two on the bench can do wonders for the ole GPA.

As difficult as the past two seasons have been in the loss column, the off-the-field incidents have produced an equally bitter taste.

To go from gaining praise as a model program to one that could potentially draw negative stereotypes should set off major alarm bells. My guess is Holtz has heard them ringing. If he hasn't, rest assured athletics director Terry Holland, intimately acquainted with the demanding academic rigors of Davidson and Virginia, will keep the bell tolling.

The Holtz name is the one in the profession that has earned the most acclaim for resurrecting stumbling programs. Papa Lou did it at several stops, but it's the son who will be linked to the family's biggest rebuilding project yet.

Marked improvement is needed on the field and in the classroom. A significant adjustment must be made in attitude and the overall image of the program is in need of restoration.

From the recruiting philosophy to conditioning, academics to discipline, almost every area is in need of a major overhaul.

No question, a coach's mission is to win games. That is the most visible measuring stick by which he is measured in the public and by the school's administration.

With the length of coaching tenures shrinking by the day, the pressure to win has never been greater. But at the same time, winning should never precede academics in the hierarchy of importance.

The biggest challenge for Holtz is to rediscover the Pirates' balance between the two.

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02/23/2007 01:59:26 AM

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