Dylan Johnson -252 ESPN Radio
Finally, it appears East Carolina University Athletics has a vision again and with it the backing of the Pirate Nation. At the least, ECU has a complete Athletics staff again and is working its way out of a complete mess.
The whole mess began when Jeff Compher agreed to buyout on Mar. 8 after a five-year extension last June. Compher stayed on the role through May 1.
ECU went seven months without an AD in place until hiring Southern Miss AD Jon Gilbert, who immediately hired Mike Houston from James Madison University as head football coach.
ECU fired previous head coach Scottie Montgomery two days before the NC State game because of reports that Houston was gonna become the coach at UNC Charlotte.
Both Gilbert and Houston inherit a mess of ECU Athletics. ECU Football has gone through four straight losing seasons, 5-7 under former head coach Ruffin McNeill and three consecutive 3-9 seasons with Montgomery.
Ticket sales had plummeted at ECU and each home game down the stretch of the 2018 season provided a new low in attendance at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium.
Compher messed by making his first big decision as AD to fire the popular McNeill, something that fans never got past considering Montgomery’s record as coach.
But Houston was 37-6 at JMU, including a FCS national championship win.
Gilbert is already better off than Compher because the fan base has already rallied around the hire of Houston. Houston is also an NC native and was very successful at previous stops with Citadel and JMU, making him an easy sell to to Pirate fans and, very importantly, the Pirate club.
ECU has a long way to catch up in terms of facilities and amenities, notably still missing an indoor training facility and a dedicated athletic training table.
Compher’s decisions have also in large part led to the mess of ECU’s athletic budget deficit that will be more than $4 million at the end of this fiscal year. That debt caused the university to pass along a lot of that debt to students in the form of increased student fees, something that highlighted the leadership issues ECU was going through.
But alas, ECU finally has some semblance of organization in leadership and unity among the fans now.
There were multiple ECU board of trustees meetings that ended with no announcement, or an announcement to be made by the end of football season. ECU Made it an entire football season without an AD.
But Dave Hart got both candidates who were at the top of their lists and did so very quickly. Very different from Compher’s handling of firing McNeill and hiring of Montgomery.
Dave Hart, who had began to receive criticism recently for a lack of activity, earned every penny ECU was paying him with this prompt search.
The hiring of Gilbert and Houston to go along with the popular hiring of Joe Dooley as men’s basketball coach and extending the contract of the extremely successful baseball head coach Cliff Godwin now gives ECU athletics a future it can promote as exciting again.
Godwin and David Blackwell, who led ECU as interim head coach against NCSU, both spoke about ending the negativity that has been surrounding the football program and athletics department as a whole for a long time.
Gilbert introduced himself to the Pirate nation on Monday with an afternoon press conference while Houston did the same on Tuesday morning. Gilbert spoke about it not being about him, but about ECU and Houston spoke about the culture he would begin to instill in ECU football.
Gilbert said this was all about ECU and not about him. They didn’t back down in getting the man they wanted for the football job. Houston followed that up saying he wouldn’t back down in “making ECU football relevant again.” Now that both are here, the negativity Blackwell and Godwin referred to can start to part ways with ECU.
Dylan Johnson covers ECU Athletics for ESPN Greenville 107.5FM & 252Radio