Coach Houston

ECU head coach Mike Houston roams the sideline in his inaugural season with the Pirates, in 2019.

East Carolina University football head coach Mike Houston will enter his second season as the leader of the Pirates, but should this pivotal second year count toward his proverbial credits as head coach at ECU?

It’s pretty typical that newly hired head coaches receive about three years to prove they’re worth their contract. Colleges and Universities expecting at least a bowl game by the end of those three years. Unfortunately for Houston, his second season as Pirate head coach comes in the middle of a global pandemic.

Houston came to the Pirates before the 2019 season as a wildly successful head coach in the NCAA’s Division I Football Championship Subdivision ranks. The former James Madison University head coach currently boasts an overall record as a college head coach of 84-33. However, his first season with the Pirates did more for his numbers in the loss column than it did for the win column.

The Pirates finished the 2019 season with a record of 4-8 in Houston’s first season which looks like an improvement from the Scottie Montgomery era. Four wins is certainly an improvement from three, but a picky Pirate fan might say tight victories over the University of Connecticut and the College of William and Mary aren’t quite what Pirate football is all about.

It’s also fair to write off the first season of many head coaches careers at a new school as just an inherited mess. Houston’s first go as a Pirate head coach wasn’t spectacular, but it was certainly a product of an inherited mess. Even still, Houston’s first season counts and anybody who watched saw the progress that certain position groups made in just a season’s time under Houston and his staff.

Now out from under former defensive coordinator David Blackwell’s defensive scheme which highlighted speedy outside linebackers and nimble edge rushers, the defense continues to add size under Houston’s regime. The defensive line alone has seen an uptick in players who are listed at 270 pounds and higher between the 2019 season and this years.

The defensive line that Houston inherited had just six players listed at 270 pounds or higher while coming into the 2020 season. The Pirate defensive line is looking at nine players who weighed in at 270 pounds or higher. Only three of the nine players who currently meet the benchmark weight this season were on the roster for the 2019 season. Houston is moving ECU football in the right direction and size is a great place to start.

Size is great, but it means nothing if Houston and his staff can’t put it to use. Evidence of a coaching jump from former head coach Scottie Montgomery’s last season in 2018 and Houston’s first in 2019 is clear on the stat sheets. Opposing offenses scored 44 fewer total points and just under four points less on average between the 2018 and 2019 seasons.

It’s clear that Houston and his staff are more than qualified while they do what they can. The proven competency in just one season should be evidence enough that a poor performance this season is just a result of a season stunted by a global pandemic. In short, Houston gets a pass on this season.

Greenville, North Carolina and ECU should be a turnstyle of new head coaches not because it’s where you come to get fired, but because it’s where you come to get hired. To allow Houston to build the Pirate program from the ground up is the only way to bring Pirate football back to its former successes and it won’t happen if this season leads him to a third year exit.

In other words, Pirate Nation needs to have patience. ECU will never be back to 10-win seasons and back-to-back conference championships or bowl wins if the program isn’t allowed to find its way. Houston has re-built programs at his past universities. In only two seasons at The Citadel, Houston took the Bulldogs from 5-7 in his first season to a 9-4, conference championship season in his second go around.

A four or five win season could be argued as a winning season this year so why not adjust the standards we expect coaches to meet this year? The hiring process could benefit from some fluidity and transparency.

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