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WOODWARD: Pirates need reboot under Houston

Stony Brook James Madison Football-8
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James Madison head coach Mike Houston, left, and Stony Brook head coach Chuck Priore shake hands after the end of an NCAA college football game in Harrisonburg, Va., Saturday, Oct. 27, 2018. James Madison defeated Stony Brook 13-10. (Daniel Lin/Daily News-Record via AP)

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By RONNIE WOODWARD
The Daily Reflector

Monday, December 3, 2018

RALEIGH

East Carolina’s Jake Verity lined up to kick a field goal at soggy Carter-Finley Stadium on Saturday and booted the ball through the uprights from 46 yards away to end the game and the Pirates’ third straight 3-9 season.

Final score: N.C. State 58, East Carolina 3.

That reads like a major reboot is needed for the Pirates, and it is coming.

The most important person to the future of ECU football was not at Carter-Finley Stadium. It actually was Mike Houston, who was in Hamilton, N.Y., on Saturday for James Madison’s Football Championship Subdivision playoff game at Colgate.

Houston is expected to be named the Pirates’ next head coach.

Colgate’s 23-20 win over JMU immediately amped up the Pirates’ football coaching search that has been centered around Houston not long after ECU dismissed Scottie Montgomery on Thursday afternoon. Montgomery finished with a 9-26 record, and defensive coordinator David Blackwell handled the head coaching duties at N.C. State in an expectedly bumbling afternoon for the visiting team.

Blackwell is a quality candidate to remain as defensive coordinator, but Houston also needs to take the freshest approach possible for the Pirates to fix their recent culture of losing.

Houston was head coach at Lenoir-Rhyne from 2011-13. Lenoir-Rhyne also is where Southern Miss athletics director Jon Gilbert, the front-runner for the Pirates’ vacant AD position, went to school and played football.

Houston’s most recent and most significant connection to East Carolina happened Sept. 2, 2017, when James Madison came to Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium as defending FCS champions and beat the Pirates 34-14. ECU needed a touchdown with 23 seconds remaining to create the final score.

That James Madison team was plenty good, but Houston’s decisive coaching advantage over Montgomery also played a role in the outcome.

Houston is set to take over an ECU program in need of a total reset.

He will need to establish much-needed offensive changes and mend the lack of confidence in players that has set in during four straight losing seasons. That starts with quarterback Holton Ahlers, who has been a winner basically in all sports for all of his life until he came to East Carolina last December.

Ahlers is the second-most important person to the future of Pirate football. He was at Carter-Finley Stadium on Saturday, but the true freshman was not in full uniform as he was not healthy enough to experience action in the game that didn’t carry much significance beyond ECU’s seniors playing in their final contest.

Ahlers will be front and center when the Pirates begin the 2019 season at N.C. State.

That ECU team will have new coaches, some new players and hopefully new strategies for how to fare better in road games and in the American Athletic Conference. Certainly new play-calls, and maybe even new uniforms? Why not.

There is no reason for a new coaching staff to not look at, dissect and change what went wrong the last few years.

Contact Ronnie Woodward at rwoodward@reflector.com, 252-329-9592 and follow @RonnieW11 on Twitter.

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