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Houston introduced as new ECU coach

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New East Carolina football coach Mike Houston.

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By RONNIE WOODWARD
The Daily Reflector

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

A public pursuit of sorts played out for former James Madison football coach Mike Houston last week, and it was East Carolina that introduced Houston as the Pirates’ 22nd head football coach at the Murphy Center on Tuesday.

The Charlotte 49ers offered their head coaching position to Houston, a native of Franklin in the western part of North Carolina, early last week and Houston planned to keep his options open leading up to his JMU team’s Football Championship Subdivision playoff game at Colgate on Saturday. Charlotte rescinded its offer after ECU dismissed coach Scottie Montgomery on Thursday and joined the mix in courting Houston.

A five-year contract for Houston with the Pirates was sealed Sunday when ECU representatives Dave Hart, Jon Gilbert  — who had not yet been named ECU’s new athletics director — and J.J. McLamb met with the coach.

It was a quick football coach search that, for East Carolina, finished with it getting its top choice.

The sequence of events for ECU athletics included Gilbert being introduced publicly as the new AD on Monday, then it was Houston’s turn Tuesday to try and reinvigorate and win over Pirate Nation.

“This past week has been a whirlwind,” said Houston, who led JMU to the 2016 FCS national championship. “The fact that we were one of the top (FCS) programs in the country is the reason why I had these opportunities. … As soon as I was contacted by East Carolina University, there was no doubt of what my desire was and that was to be the head football coach here.

“This is a job that I identified in my past as something I would want to pursue and have this opportunity. … I’m glad it played out the way it did, to this end, because this is where I want to be.”

Houston’s contract calls for him to make $1.3 million guaranteed in his first season, which is more than Montgomery’s guaranteed $1.1 million for the 2018 season. Montgomery finished with a 9-26 record in three seasons.

Hart, ECU’s special athletics adviser, was the first Pirate representative to contact Houston on Thursday.

Houston held his first team meeting with players on Monday night. ECU hasn’t had a winning season since an 8-5 record in 2014 under coach Ruffin McNeill, who was fired by then-AD Jeff Compher the next year after a 5-7 season.

“I told them that I know Scottie and I know Ruffin — Ruffin and I are good friends — so they are never going to hear me talk negatively about a former coach because those two guys gave East Carolina University everything that they had,” Houston said. “Those players that are on my team now are here because of former coaches. Of course those players are going to feel an emotional attachment to them, and I look forward to building on what my predecessors have done and I look forward to taking the program where it is now to back to where it once was.”

The thought of bringing winning ways back to the Pirates immediately set in with players.

“Everywhere he has been he has won, and he’s only had one losing season in his whole time as a head coach,” Greenville native and starting quarterback Holton Ahlers said. “Players can look that up, even when he was just a candidate. … When he brought up ECU football and the 1990s, that made me excited and honestly gave me chills during our team meeting.”

Houston has an 80-25 career record. He coached at Lenoir-Rhyne, where Gilbert went to school and played football, and then The Citadel before posting a 37-6 record at JMU.

“He hasn’t skipped a step, and that was one of the things that really impressed me about coach Houston,” Gilbert said. “He has been a high school coach, a Division II coach, an FCS coach and now he is moving on to the East Carolina Pirates. … We play in a venue with a scoreboard, so it’s not like other (work) environments where if they have a bad day, most people don’t know about it. Wins and losses are important.”

Houston’s connection to the Pirates includes the start of the 2017 season when JMU beat ECU, 34-14, in Greenville.

His staff at JMU also included former veteran ECU offensive assistants Donnie Kirkpatrick and Steve Shankweiler, who immediately are candidates to follow Houston and return to the Pirate staff.

Filling out his coaching staff and recruiting ahead of the mid-December early signing period are priorities already for Houston, but he also said he wants to reach out to fans and mend any issues between them and Pirate football.

“I am excited about our alumni and our fan base, and I want to establish a strong bond between those groups and our football program,” he said. “We are eastern North Carolina’s football program. In time, we will be North Carolina’s football program.”

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

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