In the summer leading into the 2016 season, the East Carolina football program had a head of steam and a path of endless opportunities lying ahead.
New head coach Scottie Montgomery was a younger and a more offensive-minded coach than what Pirates fans were used to in former coach Ruffin McNeill. Seemingly, Montgomery was a needed refresher for the program — a program that had a 5-7 record behind a season-long quarterback battle between two guys who wouldn’t be listed as an ECU quarterback in 2016.
Montgomery caught a lot of flak brought on by Athletic Director Jeff Compher’s firing of McNeill, but he actually had fans forgetting about the firing before the season kicked off. The coach was in his niche, showing his ability to bring in a solid staff and win over the media.
Montgomery’s smooth entrance put a lot of the rift between Compher and the fans on the back burner. The newly-appointed head coach’s North Carolina roots didn’t hurt the cause. Montgomery seemed to have the strings of many fans’ heart before the season even started.
However it wasn’t long before fans were reminded of the bad condition the football team was in.
A 2-0 start and a win against in-state rival North Carolina State would soon be washed away after a debacle where ECU won only one of its last 10 games. Montgomery’s first year ended with a 3-9 record — worse than any McNeill team.
Montgomery met the eye test before the season, but in his first season he failed to prove the most important part: if he can win.
Blaming the coach would only be justified, every head coach knows their responsibility when accepting their role, and yes Montgomery made sure all negativity be focused on him.
However, when Compher made his still-scrutinized decision to fire McNeill, he mentioned how intent he was on winning championships. McNeill earned one co-divisional title in 2012 but never made it into a conference championship game, in neither the Conference-USA nor the American Athletic Conference.
Though many questioned why, it’ll never be for sure why “Ruff” was outed, but something was for sure this season and last: the talent level. Sure Justin Hardy (a walk-on) and Zay Jones (two offers out of high school) are two NFL-caliber players who deserve every bit of attention, but both were diamonds in the rough.
Besides a handful of others, the recruiting wasn’t coming with the strong foundation of the Skip Holtz era and before. The big guys like the Willie Smith’s or Linval Joseph’s were extinct in the trenches on both sides and it was evident the past two seasons, with ECU having so much trouble keeping its quarterback off of the ground.
It also stuck out on defense this season when the Pirates ended last in the FBS in sacks on the season.
The key word is implement; it’s what Montgomery will have his chance to do for at least another season, as any fair AD gives his coach three years to do so.
Though he started implementing his scheme, ways and attitude into the Pirate’s locker room the day he stepped onto campus, Montgomery was missing one thing — his recruits.
He had a small handful of his freshman recruits join him heading into August, but that number will be small compared to what he’ll be working with going into next fall.
Starting hot on the recruiting trail Monday, Montgomery has already locked up junior college defensive and offensive linemen with potential to play as soon as they step onto campus. He’s pulled a four-star Auburn transfer in defensive back Tim Irving and though it isn’t where he’d currently like to be, he is sitting at sixth in American Athletic Conference recruiting ranks.
While at Duke under head coach David Cutcliffe, there was a reason the Blue Devils pulled in such good recruits — Montgomery. He made a name on the recruiting trail for himself, and with time, fans are hopeful he can do the same in Greenville.
Montgomery must start winning now though, because next year he’ll have more of his recruits and the players should be used to his ways. Next season will be the last season for the petty excuses.
It’s win, and win now for ECU, it starts on the recruiting board and ends in Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium, where one of college football’s best atmospheres resides. Montgomery you’re on the clock.