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Leading East Carolina Is Not For The Thin Skinned Head Coach

A program with one of the most passionate fanbases in the nation, leading the program at East Carolina is a tough but rewarding job.

James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

Not every job in the AAC is created equally. Some have inherent advantages like location, money, and tradition. Others have been forced to work hard to become one of the best jobs in the conference. Leading the East Carolina Pirates was once a job few wanted, but has turned into one of the top six head coaching jobs in the conference.

How does the East Carolina head coaching job stack up versus other jobs in the AAC?

Pros:

  • One of the most passionate fan bases among G5 programs. Just looking at the last five seasons, the Pirates have the highest average attendance among the AAC... by nearly 10,000 fans per game. The 43,274 average attendance in 2015 is higher than Boston College, Colorado, Duke, Illinois, Kansas, Northwestern, Oregon State, Purdue, Syracuse, Vanderbilt, Wake Forest, and Washington State.
  • Play the big boys every year. ECU has played North Carolina 17 times, North Carolina State 28 times, South Carolina 18 times, Virginia Tech 20 times, and West Virginia 21 times. On any given season, you can almost guarantee 1-2 of those teams on the schedule. Just look at what is on the slate though 2020.
  • The program is willing to spend money. Just this year, they announced a $55 million renovation project to Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium. $55 million is a lot of money for any G5 program to spend on a stadium renovation. Some of the entire stadiums did not cost that much when constructed.
  • Players go to the next level. Since 1951, 63 East Carolina players have been drafted by the NFL. Over 100 Pirates have spent some time in the NFL, including players like Chris Johnson, Jeff Blake, Earnest Byner, and Vonta Leach.

Cons:

  • Winning is tough. ECU is a very aggressive scheduler and it shows with the year by year records. The only double digit winning seasons in school history are in 1991 under Bill Lewis and 2013 under Ruffin McNeill. There are very few "easy outs" in the AAC.
  • Not a destination job. In the history of the program, only Jack Boone (1952-1961) and Steve Logan (1992-2002) have stayed ten or more seasons. Since 1970, the average stay for an ECU head coach is 4.6 years. Take out Logan and that falls to 3.8 seasons.
  • Questionable athletic director. As everyone knows, Athletic Director Jeff Compher fired Ruffin McNeill after the 2015 season. It was a move that no one in or around the program saw coming. Whether it turns out to be a good decision to replace McNeill with Scottie Montgomery, it worries prospective coaching candidates moving forward.

Making the case for why East Carolina is about where they should be: TK Sherrill, UDD's App State Writer

ECU has had a loyal fanbase even through their dark years. I've been to Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium for a Noon kickoff when it was 100 degrees and their fans showed up. Greenville is in the middle of the nothingness of eastern North Carolina, which is part of the charm. If this was a fanbase loyalty vote, ECU would be #1 in the American.

One of the interesting facets of the ECU job is that you're judged a good bit by what you do out of conference against old rivals like Virginia Tech, NC State, North Carolina and other regional FBS foes. Those are the highlights of the ECU slate, not so much in conference.

The firing of Ruffin McNeil was a clear signal by ECU that mediocrity of any sort won't be tolerated. The AD's office is conducting the program like it's a top AAC team, but right now they're still behind the top tier.

If you look just at ECU, you would think they're a top program in the AAC. But then you look at who else is in the league and you have to pump the brakes. ECU could vault up higher in the next 3-4 years as the infrastructure is there. Scottie Montgomery will be the real test to see how good the ECU really job is.

If you were playing NCAA football in an online dynasty...

You like the idea of playing an open style of football with actual crowds in the stands. Unlike many other G5 programs, you immediately get 40,000+ fans in the stands rather than the 1,000 or so if you choose Idaho.

You like the challenge of facing one of the toughest G5 schedules on the game. The strength of schedule is high enough that you can get into the top 25 by game six. You will be able to get in the college football playoff within two years, maybe one, if you go undefeated. You can also push a Wake Forest out and earn your "rightful" spot in the ACC.

If you choose this job in real life...

You have thick skin. You are coaching a team that plays in the AAC but has an SEC type of fanbase. The passion is impressive, but they can get a little out of control sometimes. Expectations can be too high, something many coaches would struggle with.

You understand the limitations and expect to get ECU to the next level before departing for another job (i.e. Holtz to South Florida) within 4-5 years. This can be a stepping stone to try and get that P5 job you covet.

Verdict:

When you average 40,000+ per game for a G5 program, it is not just another job. This job is tough and only works for the right person. Look at Steve Logan. He was arguably the best head coach in ECU history, leading them to five bowl berths. His first losing record in nine years causes him to resign. Even Pat Dye (Wyoming) and Skip Holtz (South Florida) left for other G5 jobs.

There is a reason that only two coaches have made it to double digit seasons coached. East Carolina has to prove to future coaches that it can be a destination job in the future. An AAC title would go a long way.

The list so far:

7. Navy

8. Southern Methodist

9. Connecticut

10. Temple

11. Tulsa

12. Tulane