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Pirate Notebook No. 371
Monday, January 19, 2009

Denny O'Brien

Continuity key to ECU’s success

By Denny O'Brien
All Rights Reserved.

Continuity is an understated key to success in major college football. It certainly explains much of East Carolina’s prosperity throughout the Skip Holtz era.

The Pirates’ coaching staff during the 2008 run to the Conference USA championship is a near carbon copy of the group Holtz hired in 2004. Outside of a couple of changes during his four seasons at the wheel, Holtz has largely avoided the process of reshuffling his deck hands.

That could change soon if Todd Fitch and Greg Hudson made lasting impressions during interviews with other schools this weekend. If both Fitch and Hudson accept offers to leave, it could generate perhaps the most challenging scenario Holtz has faced during his ECU tenure.

Replacing one coordinator is hardly a simple process, especially when you consider all of the factors involved. A head coach must select someone who is comfortable leading and following, and who embraces the same football philosophies and outlook on character and chemistry.

Not to mention someone who is a seasoned recruiter.

Finding the right fit can be as challenging as converting on 3rd and 30. Doing it twice during the same postseason greatly amplifies the odds.

Just ask Chuck Amato. The former N.C. State head coach ran through coordinators like Imelda Marcos does shoes, with very little success. Despite highly regarded personnel, Amato proved that production suffers when several coaches are introduced to the program on an annual basis.

Though losing both Hudson and Fitch wouldn’t rival State’s attrition, it would introduce serious challenges. Both are highly regarded in their profession, and finding equivalent replacements wouldn’t be easy.

In Hudson, almost anyone would agree that a departure for Oklahoma State would be a crushing loss. East Carolina’s defense has made significant strides under his direction, making the improbable metamorphosis from the worst defense in C-USA during the John Thompson era to currently the best.

His zone schemes have proven successful against the type of spread offenses the Cowboys face on a weekly basis in the Big XII. The only difference would be the major upgrade in opponents' offensive personnel.

The same reaction probably wouldn’t exist should Fitch depart. ECU’s offensive numbers weren’t exactly impressive this season, and the general consensus has been to attribute the Pirates’ lack of production to Fitch.

That assertion is unfair given the parameters around which Fitch has been asked to work. The Pirates’ offensive personnel – specifically at the skill positions – hardly resembled a conference championship bunch from the midpoint of the regular season on.

Fitch was tasked with developing a running game that consisted of one running back that was too slow, one that was too small, and one that was neither a bruiser nor a speedster. His passing game lacked consistency under center, reliable veteran receivers, and his best pass protector was often injured.

Steve Spurrier would find scoring difficult under those circumstances. Heck, he did this season while facing his own set of personnel challenges.

It also should be noted that Fitch essentially implemented the offensive philosophy that Holtz requested. After injuries and suspensions claimed many of the Pirates’ frontline performers, the instructions were to take a very conservative approach, one that proved a winning complement to Hud’s defense.

Regardless, if one or both should leave the Pirates, the general consensus among many is that Holtz will simply thumb through his rolodex and reload with equally capable coordinators. That could be the case.

But there is no denying the possibility that coordinator defections could be difficult for ECU to overcome. It could introduce new terminology, different personalities, and some growing pains as players adapt.

The low rate of staff turnover during the Holtz era is largely the reason for the Pirates’ ascension to the top of C-USA. Avoiding any this off-season could go a long way towards keeping them there.

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01/18/2009 11:08:14 PM

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