09/05/05 — Holtz the right man for the job at ECU

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Holtz the right man for the job at ECU

By Rudy Coggins
Published in Sports on September 5, 2005 1:50 PM

GREENVILLE -- Saturday afternoon's postgame celebration at East Carolina prompted one single question: Who enjoyed the victory more -- the players, the coaches or the fans?

Consider it a tie.

First-year Pirate head coach Skip Holtz got washed away in a sea of purple jerseys at midfield once the cannon signified ECU's 24-21 conquest of Duke. Tears stained sweat- and grass-stained faces as they jogged from Bagwell Field to the locker room.

Players sang the school fight song in the locker room. An exuberant Holtz showed joy and excitement from watching the hard-working group of athletes celebrate a worthy victory.

"I'm just really proud of these players. I'm just proud of this university (and) the student body," said Holtz. "When we went out to warm up before the game, the student section was full of students out there cheering, yelling, hollering and screaming.

"It's just a great environment."

A near-capacity crowd viewed a season-opening win for the first time since 2000 -- ironically a 38-0 shutout of the Blue Devils. The Pirates beat Duke for the third time in their last four outings.

Holtz became the eighth coach in ECU history to prevail in his season-opening debut.

For those who avidly follow Pirate football, they understand the significance of this victory. The Blue Devils snapped a 23-game losing streak in the 2002 season opener between the two schools and the Pirates' ship steadily began to sink from that point.

ECU won four games that year -- Steve Logan's last in Greenville.

Then came back-to-back losing campaigns, a total of three wins, with John Thompson steering the broken-down vessel. Discipline, organization, emotion and intensity disappeared in a program built on pride by the late Clarence Stasavich and legendary Pat Dye.

Terry Holland's appointment as the new athletics director brought a new and positive outlook to the university. When Holland announced Holtz as the new football coach, a quiet buzz started.

Could this young guy, who resurrected a struggling Connecticut program, rekindle the spirit at ECU?.

Could he take a program smoldering in the docks and replace it by plank by plank to make it more stronger ... more formidable?

Would the seniors, now with their third head coach, buy into Holtz's system?

Saturday's result answered those questions. Holtz is undoubtedly the right man to guide the Pirates out of turbulent waters and into calmer seas.

Sure, there's many battles remaining on the horizon, but these players proved they still had emotion and enthusiasm.

They learned to protect a lead and didn't panic when Duke tied the game at 7-7 and 14-14.

The secondary, riddled with injuries and inconsistent play last season, turned in great plays all afternoon. Senior strong safety Zach Baker, who led the team in interceptions last season, picked off two passes -- including a touchdown-saving grab at the goal line.

Richard Koonce looked like his old self at linebacker.

Guy Whimper, a tight end last year, played well on the line all afternoon.

Sophomore James Pinkney, who darted customers while cleaning tables at a local restaurant, displayed his leadership abilities at quarterback. Pinkney participated in just 29 practices and looked like a veteran in the pocket.

Junior college transfer Aundrae Allison turned in a spectacular performance at receiver. The 6-foot-1, 192-pounder from Kannapolis caught 10 passes for 163 yards, including a 50-yard touchdown strike from Pinkney.

"I said to Coach (Donnie) Kirkpatric, Aundrae needs to get ten catches or we are not very good coaches, so I'm glad he got ten," said Holtz. "I think Aundrae is special. I believe that and I may be wrong but they (Duke) went to an awful lot of cover 2s and a lot of two deep to get someone in Allison's face every down."

These players are just small pieces in Holtz's large puzzle. They helped validate Holtz's commitment to guide ECU's return to "the land of respected teams" again.

There is room to grow and correct mistakes that surfaced against Duke.

And there is no one better to do the teaching than Holtz.