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Thompson era terminated


East Carolina will play the final two games of its disappointing 2004 football season with a football staff on its way out.

John Thompson, hired two years ago at a time when the ECU community was mired in a civil war of sorts over a string of divisive moves by administrators, was notified of his termination Tuesday night by recently appointed AD Terry Holland.

Henry Hinton of WNCT-AM Talk 1070 broke the news of Thompson's dismissal in a Wednesday morning broadcast. Hinton is also a columnist for

After compiling a 3-18 record for a program accustomed to contending for bowl bids, Thompson announced at a Wednesday afternoon press conference that he had reached a contract settlement with ECU and would relinquish the reigns of the program after season-ending games with Memphis and N.C. State.

Thompson succeeded former Pirate coach Steve Logan, who was abruptly fired after posting a 4-8 record in 2002 on the heels of coaching ECU to bowl berths in each of the previous three seasons.

The Pirates staggered to a 1-11 campaign in Thompson's first year on the job and are 2-7 so far this season, sharing last place in the Conference USA standings with Army.

Thompson, defensive coordinator on the staff of Ron Zook at Florida when he was hired by ECU, urged supporters to back the team in the season's remaining two games, acknowledging he understood the reasoning behind his dismissal while contending that progress had been made during his brief tenure.

"Please continue to support our players and the staff," Thompson said. "The bottom line is, we didn't win enough games and we didn't have enough time, but we planted a lot of seeds."

The chancellor, Bill Muse, and athletic director, Mike Hamrick, who ousted Logan and hired Thompson in December of 2002, each left ECU under a cloud of controversy in subsequent months.

Holland, named ECU's athletic director on Sept. 6, alluded to those tumultuous times in ECU's recent history in a statement praising Thompson for his efforts.

"The last three plus years have been ones of turmoil for ECU athletics," Holland stated. "Coach Thompson and his staff literally inherited a 'house divided.'

"Although they have done everything humanly possible to heal those wounds, the lack of success on the field has made an overwhelmingly difficult healing process virtually impossible."

In light of the announcement that a change in staffs would be made, Holland urged ECU supporters to rally behind Thompson and the Pirates as the season heads to a conclusion and to unite going forward for the good of the program.

"I would ask all true Pirates to turn out in record numbers to help Coach Thompson and his team win these last two games," Holland stated. "We all have something to prove to this group of coaches and players, to future recruits and to ourselves.

"We, as a group, need to focus on doing whatever we can to win football games by discarding all past and current distractions — that includes injuries and slights, whether real or perceived, by the BCS, conference realignments, athletic department decisions, coaching decisions, or whatever excuse we have used for not giving Coach Thompson and his team our 110% support."

"Coach Thompson, his staff and his team members have never given up under these adverse conditions," added Holland's statement. "This team has a core of young, talented players who can be the foundation for rebuilding the Pirate tradition of outstanding football teams."

Holland indicated in the statement that he will not focus on pursuing a new coach until the conclusion of the current season. The Pirates host Memphis on Saturday at 2 p.m. and close the 2004 season against N.C. State in Charlotte on Nov. 27.

"Until this season is over, we are going to dedicate ourselves to learning to win football games again," he stated. "Our focus on that will be so intense that we are not going to discuss the coaching change, search process or anything other than this football team and what we can do to help win these last two games."

"After these two games are played, we will turn our attention to the search for a new coach," continued Holland's statement. "Our first option will be to seek a coach with a successful record at the Division I level. It is apparent that this is a small pool of people and 99% of them are under long term contracts at their current institution. Therefore, the pool of candidates will include coordinators at highly successful Division I-A programs and highly successful head coaches from other Divisional levels."

Declining attendance, diminished Pirate Club support and a perceived pressing need to make the program attractive to potential suitors in an expected next round of Bowl Championship Series-inspired conference reconfigurations — in addition to his record on the field — may have been factors that weighed in the decision to force Thompson out before reaching the midway point of his five-year pact with the school.

In the most recent spate of league realignments, the reeling Pirate program was rebuffed by the Big East Conference, which issued invitations to ECU's fellow C-USA members Cincinnati, Louisville and South Florida.

ECU faces an athletic budget deficit of $1.3 million this year, according to sources, and felt compelled to cut its losses and begin the process of reviving the fan interest and financial support that Pirate football has historically generated.

Sources indicate that Holland will have a package of roughly $750,000 to $800,000 to hire a new coach.

Thompson's total compensation was around $300,000 annually and he has three years left on his base contract at $150,000 annually. Thompson did not disclose in Wednesday's press conference the terms of his settlement with the school.

Logan's package was in the $500,000 per year range and included a base salary of $200,000, which ECU is contractually obligated to continue paying until Jan. 1, 2006. staff members Al Myatt and Danny Whitford contributed to this report.

Copyright 2004 All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.


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