08/07/05 — ECU media day -- Team unity goal leads Holtz to remove jersey names

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ECU media day -- Team unity goal leads Holtz to remove jersey names

By Rudy Coggins
Published in Sports on August 7, 2005 2:08 AM

GREENVILLE -- Game-day vendors might make a little extra money selling football programs at East Carolina this fall.

Fans will certainly need them to identify the players.

Eager to promote team unity and uproot individualistic goals, first-year Pirates head coach Skip Holtz removed every returning player's name from his respective jersey. The move caught some upperclassmen by surprise.

Not Richard Koonce. The senior, who moved back to outside linebacker this season, supported Holtz's decision.

"The seniors have sold out to him and the mood has transitioned through the whole team," said Koonce, a three-time all-Conference USA selection. "

Koonce is one of eight returners on defense and 18 overall for the Pirates, who have 48 lettermen on this year's roster. There is also a mix of freshmen and transfers, whom Holtz said could be key in guiding ECU out of turbulent waters it's experienced the last two seasons.

Thus another reason Holtz removed the names.

"We made an emphasis that this is going to be all about this particular team and this program, not about the individual," said Holtz. "One of the players came to me and said that we have had the names on the back of the jerseys for awhile.

"I said the we have the important one (East Carolina) on the front, so I don't care about the one on the back."

Holtz is trying to build a winning attitude into a program that's endured three wins the past two seasons. In fact, there is no team in this year's schedule that the Pirates have beaten over the past three years.

The son of legendary coach Lou Holtz, Skip compared East Carolina to his coaching stints at Connecticut and South Carolina. Those programs were similar from a win/loss standpoint, but he's been more encouraged with how this team has bought into his program.

Players at UConn and USC struggled with Holtz's ideas.

"Right now we have a lot of intensity, excitement and enthusiasm with these players," said Holtz. "We, as coaches, are going to have to keep that enthusiasm going through 15 to 20 practices.

"If we can keep the same intensity, focus and enthusiasm over the next 29 days, then I think we are going to be pretty competitive."

East Carolina hasn't won a season opener since 2000 when it defeated Duke 38-0 in Durham. Koonce, along with his fellow seniors, have yet to play in a bowl game.

Had the Pirates taken care of the "little things" a year ago, Koonce thinks the team could have experienced a winning season -- the program's first since 2000. Losses by less than a touchdown to CUSA foes Cincinnati and Memphis, both home games, proved critical for a team reeling with injuries.

"Big plays, third-down conversions, missed assignments and tackles, which isn't a little thing ... that was the big thing that was going wrong with the defense last year," said Koonce. "We definitely have had players who have made the big plays over the years, but the bad has always out-weighed the good.

"(UConn and USC) were in the same situation as us now and they turned it around. When a man like Coach Holtz does that, taking teams like that and getting all those wins, you've got to put all your faith into him."

Holtz and his staff spent the first two practice days filtering in the upperclassmen, especially those who missed spring practice. He gave the players the option of going home for the summer, but most made the commitment to stay and work out.

Notes: ECU began practice Friday and will conduct single workouts through Tuesday. ... The Pirates will work out in shoulder pads today and move to full gear on Tuesday per NCAA rules. ... The ECU defense arrived for fall camp in good health with the exception of safety Mickey McCoy, who is out indefinitely with an ankle injury. ... Holtz's first significant position change to open camp was moving Guy Whimper (6-foot-6, 302 pounds) from tight end to the offensive line.