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WOODWARD: Unique situation nets rare, optimistic result

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From left, adviser Dave Hart, athletics director Jon Gilbert and East Carolina University Chancellor Cecil Staton on Monday at the Murphy Center.

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By RONNIE WOODWARD
The Daily Reflector

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Dave Hart didn’t even know how to finish his sentence.

He has been in athletics administration since the early 1980s and seen just about everything, except for what happened with him and East Carolina finalizing an athletics director search and football coaching search at the same time.

“This was very unusual and just when you think you’ve seen it all ...”

Hart didn’t need to continue speaking, because the introductory news conference held for Jon Gilbert as the Pirates’ AD on Monday and then Mike Houston as new football coach the next day provided all the insight.

Gilbert was ECU’s No. 1 choice. Houston was ECU’s No. 1 choice. The Pirates got both.

Pulling this off is rare for any school. It is especially rare for the Pirates to get their top choice, because they are not in a Power Five conference and don't have an enormous budget to entice candidates.

A look back at the previous football coaching search, led by then-AD Jeff Compher, is telling.

Gene Chizik was the hot name in December of 2015. Droves of Pirate fans, staffers and donors wanted Chizik to leave his post as North Carolina’s defensive coordinator to be the Pirates’ 21st head coach.

Chizik was only mildly interested and ended up staying at UNC.

The trickle-down effect of missing out on Chizik led to the final three interviews going to Scottie Montgomery, Brady Hoke and Everett Withers.

Montgomery, then an offensive coordinator at Duke, thrived during his interview and was offered the job. He accepted, but the search process and hire was met by speculation on the local, regional and national levels.

East Carolina wasn’t a good fit for Montgomery, who was dismissed last Thursday with a 9-26 record. Hoke (Carolina Panthers) and Withers (Texas State) also were fired this year.

This time, the Pirates had a plan with their coaching search and they executed it with perfect precision.

Houston, who already has an 80-25 career record as a head coach, could have remained at Football Championship Subdivision powerhouse James Madison. He also could have given more thought to coaching the Charlotte 49ers, who also sought him, but in the end, he couldn't say no to Hart, Gilbert and the Pirates.

There were times last week when it was very clear that ECU really wanted to finalize a deal with Gilbert and make sure that he and Houston were both secure in their decisions and coming to Greenville together.

Speculation and anticipation were key words at that point. Validation came this week.

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

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