After going through another tough losing season, the East Carolina University football team and the athletic department parted ways with former head coach Scottie Montgomery in the fall. Athletic Director Jon Gilbert went out and ECU found its next head coach in Mike Houston, who was introduced to Pirate Nation back on Dec. 4.
“When the opportunity first became available it was a little bit of a dream come true,” Houston said. “The university’s always been one that’s passionate about their football program and so it was something that I thought to myself if I ever had the chance one day this is something that I would like to pursue. I could not of been more excited when I first got the phone call from Dave Hart and then when I was offered the job from (Jon) Gilbert.”
Houston is coming off a three year tenure that went from 2016-2018 at James Madison University. He was able to guide the program to 37-6 overall record, which included two consecutive 14-1 finishes in 2016 and 2017. During those three years he took JMU to three NCAA FCS postseasons, including one national championship in 2016, a runner-up finish in 2017 and a second round elimination in 2018. Houston also helped JMU get two Colonial Athletic Association championships.
Prior to coaching at JMU, Houston served as the head coach at the Citadel from 2014-2015. He helped the Bulldogs get their fourth winning season since 1995 in 2015, when they went 9-4 overall. Houston is the only coach to win a Southern Conference Championship within his first two seasons as head coach.
Before becoming the head coach at The Citadel, Houston spent three seasons at Lenoir-Rhyne (2011-2013), a Division II school in the South Atlantic Conference. He had a 29-8 record with the Bears and took them to three straight SAC championships. He served as the defensive coordinator and secondary coach at Lenoir-Rhyne from 2007-2010. In 2006, Houston was the associate head coach and defensive coordinator at Brevard College.
On top of his winning success as a head coach at the collegiate level, Houston was named CAA coach-of-the-year in 2016, SoCon coach-of-the-year in 2015 and SAC coach-of-the-year with Lenoir-Rhyne.
“He has a track record of success everywhere he’s been,” Gilbert said. “I knew from a fit standpoint he would be a really good fit, and I knew his head coaching experience would serve us well. I felt like that is what we really needed. I knew from the people in the industry how well thought of he was and so I could not be more pleased at where we are in the direction of our program.”
Houston said he was impressed with ECU’s campus when he first stepped foot at his new university, including the new upgrades that are being made to Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium and other facilities around it. Houston loved the energy that ran through the student body, which he expressed was something you need to be able to recruit players.
Houston was greeted with a warm welcome from Pirate Nation in December and since then, Houston said the Greenville community could not have been more welcoming.
“Everywhere that my family and I have been, we have been received with love, enthusiasm and hospitality,” Houston said. “I’m happy to be back a little bit farther south. I’m guaranteed to have good barbecue and sweet tea so two things that are dear to my heart. We’ve really enjoyed getting to know different people in our neighborhood and visiting various churches around the area, it’s been great.”
Houston is looking to revitalize an ECU football team that went through three consecutive seasons where it would produce a 3-9 record. After being hired by Gilbert and the Athletic Department, the team has had to adjust to Houston’s coaching style. With the spring football game coming up on Saturday, Houston feels better about his team than where they were when he first took over the new position.
“The big thing I am looking forward to is just being able to experience Pirate Nation, being able to get out there and represent the University,” Houston said. “I don’t have a set number of wins or whatever that I want to put out there because we are not even close to being ready for the season yet, but I expect us to compete at a much higher level than what the program has in the past several years and I expect us to be an exciting team to watch.”