Team preview: East Carolina

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(All information as of June 20, 2007)


It wasn't that long ago when East Carolina was considered one of the better programs in Conference USA, with four consecutive winning regular-season records and three consecutive bowl appearances under former coach Steve Logan.

Still, many Pirate fans weren't all that happy with Logan because they perceived him to be cold, distant and too stubborn for his own good. As soon as he experienced a losing season, going 4-8 in 2002, it became convenient to get rid of him.

ECU replaced him with one of the nicest guys in football, long-time defensive coordinator John Thompson. Being a nice guy, however, wasn't enough to save Thompson when he went 3-20 in two seasons in 2003-04.
Now it appears ECU administrators and fans might finally have what they want in head coach Skip Holtz, who has shown an ability to sell the program off the field and lead it on the field.
In their second year under Holtz, the Pirates finished 7-6 overall and 5-3 in conference play, won at East Division champ Southern Miss in overtime, finished second in the division race and earned their first bowl since 2001.
"It was huge for us, especially in terms of confidence, to take a program from where we were from winning three games in two years to being able to go to a bowl game, especially with so many young players," Holtz said. "It's created an excitement, an energy, an enthusiasm. It's given the players that positive reinforcement that they're working hard, they're doing things the right way on and off the field and making strides and going in the right directions."

Despite a 24-7 loss to USF in the Papajohns.com Bowl, the season has to be considered a big step for a program that returns 54 letter winners as well as a preseason depth chart that includes only 10 seniors, seven senior starters, 17 juniors and 25 freshmen or sophomores.
"I think there's a lot more talent here than we had in the beginning," Holtz said. "We're still much younger than we've been. Obviously when you take over a program as the new coach you change a lot of things and there were a lot of players who felt like they'd be better off somewhere else.
"So we've had the opportunity to go out and recruit a lot of players the last two years, and I think we have a lot more talent than we've had in years past, and we also have more depth than we've had in years past. But we're still a young football team."

Of course, a higher level of success also brings a higher level of expectations. If opponents didn't pay attention before, they certainly will now.
"It's going to be a real tall order for us to improve on last year's record when you look at our schedule and consider the fact that we're breaking in a new quarterback who has almost no experience at this point," Holtz said. "Virginia Tech isn't exactly the atmosphere you want to baptize him. We've got an inexperienced quarterback, we lost almost our whole secondary and almost all of our receivers.
"I do think we'll be much better on our offensive and defensive lines, not only with our starters but with our depth as well. But what we don't have right now is a lot of experience at the skill positions. I still think we're a couple of years away from really being there week-in, week-out where we're really ready to compete at a high level."