East Carolina football decade review
CUSA Fans ECU Correspondent Thomas "Bubba" Rosenbaum brings you a 10-year review of the East Carolina Pirates football program.
The East Carolina football program has been on a roller coaster ride over the past decade.
From 1996 to 2000, the Pirates had three of the best teams in school history under head coach Steve Logan. They won eight games twice (1996 and 2000) and nine games once (1999) while knocking off some of the nation’s best programs. During this stretch, ECU posted wins over Miami (2), Syracuse, South Carolina (2), West Virginia and Texas Tech. These talented teams featured explosive offensives, high-powered aerial attacks and quality quarterbacks such as Marcus Crandell, Dan Gonzalez and David Garrard. Head Coach Steve Logan, who is highly-recognized as a talented tutor of quarterbacks, earned the nickname “Riverboat Gambler” for the plethora of fake punts, onside kicks and various trick plays his teams would execute.
The last two years of the Logan era were not as successful.
In 2001, a team with much preseason promise struggled to a disappointing 6-6 mark. The Pirates consistently built large first half leads, but were forced to hold on time and again in the second half. They were finally unable to do so against Byron Leftwich and Marshall in the GMAC Bowl, as the Herd rallied from a 38-8 halftime deficit to win 64-61 in double overtime. The comeback ranks as the second biggest in bowl history.
ECU would begin the 2002 campaign with a loss at lowly Duke, who came into the game with the nation’s longest losing streak. With an inexperienced quarterback and very little defense, the Pirates would finish the trying season at 4-8. The last loss was to Cincinnati in the infamous Friday night game, an issue which hurt ECU’s relationship with high schools within the state of North Carolina since the game was being played on national television while the high school state playoffs were going on.
The day after the Cincinnati loss, the ECU administration made the decision to fire 11 th-year head coach Steve Logan. It became a known fact that the coach could not coexist with then athletic director Mike Hamrick. He had also offended some of the Pirate faithful, which was reflected in declining attendance during his final year at the helm.
With the Pirate family divided as a result of Logan’s dismissal, John Thompson walked into a tough situation. The much-traveled career assistant impressed those doing the hiring, but did very little during his brief tenure. Thompson, who went 3-20 in his two seasons in Greenville, did bring in some quality talent. However, he did not deliver on his promises to hire an experienced coaching staff and his teams were rarely competitive. The Pirates suffered seven losses by 30 points or more during the 2003 and 2004 campaigns.
Fortunately, Terry Holland was hired as ECU’s Director of Athletics in October of 2004. Holland, the former UVA basketball coach and athletic director, brought instant credibility to the Pirates’ program. With two games remaining in the 2004 season, Holland made the decision to buyout the remainder of Thompson’s contract.
In December of 2004, East Carolina named Skip Holtz, the son of football coaching legend Lou Holtz, as its head coach. Holtz, who had been a head coach at UCONN, assembled an impressive coaching staff. The Pirates showed much improvement during the 2005 season, finishing 5-6 (which nearly doubled their win total from the ’03 and ’04 seasons) and competing with essentially everyone on their schedule.
After just missing a bowl game in ’05, Holtz and the Pirates reached the postseason in year two despite facing a more challenging schedule. ECU concluded the season at 7-6 following a 24-7 loss to Big East opponent South Florida in the PapaJohns.com Bowl in Birmingham. The Pirates had near misses at UAB and Rice, the latter, which kept it from facing Houston in the CUSA title game. However, all in all, it was a huge step in the right direction for a program that continues to reestablish itself as one of the top programs in Conference USA.
There is nothing that will unite a fan base more than winning and it appears that there will be no shortage of W’s while the Holtz regime is in Greenville.
ECU Football Records (since 1996)
ECU Football Bowl Appearances
ECU Football Coaching Records
ECU Football All-Americans (1996-2006)
Former ECU Football Players Drafted (1996-2007)
ECU Football Biggest Win
27-23 over #9 Miami (FL) in Raleigh, NC (September 25, 1999)
This was the obvious selection, as the Pirates and their fans overcome enormous odds to record a 27-23 victory over the ninth-ranked Hurricanes in N.C. State's Carter-Finley Stadium in Raleigh.
Hurricane Floyd wreaked havoc throughout Eastern North Carolina just prior to East Carolina's departure for its road contest at South Carolina. Following the Pirates' victory over the Gamecocks, they were informed that it was unsafe for them to return home. Therefore, USC graciously extended its helping hand and allowed ECU to use its practice facilities while preparing for its showdown with Miami. After Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium was deemed unfit to host the game against the Hurricanes and the A.D.'s of both schools saw no potential for a make-up date later in the season, in-state rival N.C. State offered the use of its stadium.
With countless problems to tend to at home, diehard Pirate fans (and even Wolfpack, Tar Heels and other non-ECU fans) found a way to pack the stadium and give the game the atmosphere it deserved.
In the first half, it looked as if the conditions had taken their toll on the Pirates. With some help from East Carolina, Miami built a commanding 20-3 halftime advantage. The Hurricanes extended their lead to 23-3 early in the second half.
Having attended the game myself, I can vouch for the unusual emotion felt by many in attendance. Despite the large deficit, many felt as if the Pirates would simply not lose this game if they could just eliminate the costly mistakes. Behind the strong right arm of sophomore quarterback David Garrard, who passed for well over 200 yards in the second half, and a couple of huge runs by Jamie Wilson on sprint draw plays, ECU scored 24 unanswered points to improve to 4-0 on the season.
Following the 1999 season, East Carolina was awarded the Disney Spirit Award for the most moving performance in college football that year.
ECU Football Best Road Win
31-6 over Miami (FL) (1996)
A little more than a week following its disappointing 28-7 Thursday night loss to Southern Miss, East Carolina was faced with the task of beating the 12th-ranked Hurricanes in the fabled Orange Bowl.
Miami jumped out to an early 6-0 lead, but the Pirates scored the next 31 points to records the biggest road win in its program's history.
Quarterback Marcus Crandell passed for three touchdowns and running back Scott Harley rushed for 100 yards in the memorable ECU victory.
Several hundred Pirate fans welcomed the team home by greeting them at the Greenville Airport when they arrived home around 2 a.m.
ECU Football Future Outlook
Skip Holtz and the East Carolina program have made tremendous strides in the past two seasons. In 2006, the Pirates recorded their first winning season since 2000 and appeared in their first bowl game since 2001. Holtz and his very talented and experienced coaching staff have done an excellent job on the recruiting trail. ESPN Insider regarded ECU’s 2007 class as one of the nation’s top 40.
The Pirates will need these talented prospects to live up to their hype, as East Carolina will play a nationally competitive schedule that features the likes of Virginia Tech and West Virginia.
While the schedule will be challenging and there is no BCS-inclusion to lure recruits with, expect East Carolina to challenge for the CUSA title annually, make regular bowl appearances and develop into one of the best programs on the east coast.
When the next conference expansion takes place, don’t be surprised if the Pirates receive their long-awaited invite to the Big East.
With strong leadership, the future is promising for the Pirates.