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WOODWARD: Pirates resurface with Gilbert, Houston

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East Carolina athletics director Jon Gilbert, left, sits and talks with football coach Mike Houston during an ECU basketball game in Minges Coliseum on Feb. 13.

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The Daily Reflector

Thursday, July 18, 2019


East Carolina was picked fifth in the American Athletic Conference football East Division for the second straight year in the league preseason poll, but more important than the poll’s release Tuesday during AAC media days was the confident and persistent presence of ECU athletics director Jon Gilbert and football coach Mike Houston at Gurney’s Newport Resort and Marina.

Gilbert participated in league meetings and even hit the Gurney’s pool Monday afternoon, then at night, he bounced from table to table to socialize with a plethora of people and to soak in the sights at the league’s annual signature summer clambake.

Houston admitted he is still learning about the American and its coaches. Monday and Tuesday provided him with significant opportunities to further his knowledge and insight about the AAC.

The first-year Pirate coach, who owns an 80-25 career record highlighted by winning the Football Championship Subdivision national championship at James Madison in 2016, also was strong and clear in his message about trying to return ECU to winning ways after three straight 3-9 seasons by the Pirates.

The details about the mannerisms by Houston and Gilbert are noteworthy because of the contrast between this year’s AAC event for the Pirates compared to the 2018 version.

One year after ECU was represented uncomfortably at times in Newport, Houston and Gilbert helped reestablish the Pirates and their brand within the league despite media voters not putting much stock into East Carolina’s expected on-field product for this season.

Former coach Scottie Montgomery voiced his frustration when ECU was picked fifth in the East in the 2018 American preseason poll, which ended up being prophetic, but too many people already knew that Montgomery’s future at ECU was shaky.

Surrounded by solid athletics directors, Lee Workman served as acting chief operating officer last July for ECU during AAC media days. Workman temporarily filled a void when the university's athletics department was in major need of new life and proper direction.

Workman tried to fit in a year ago at AAC media days, but the reality was he and Montgomery were on far from permanent footing.

That was replaced one year later by meaningful and long-term words and actions by Houston and Gilbert.

What was the result? ECU football did not gain any wins or drop any losses in Newport, but what the Pirates did do was show off two chief people leading the program's rebuilding mission.

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


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