Saturday, September 13, 2008

You have to take a bad job and make it a good job

I've been watching what's happening in Greenville, N.C., over the last few weeks as Skip Holtz and his staff have guided their East Carolina Pirates team to wins over Virginia Tech and West Virginia and into the AP Top 20.

Much like Clemson's Tommy Bowden reached out to his peers after losing to Alabama, Coach Holtz said this week that he has talked with Urban Meyer about his days at Utah, Chris Petersen at Boise State, Pat Hill at Fresno State, and June Jones at SMU (formerly of Hawaii). According to Coach Holtz:

"I'm trying to learn from their success ... get different ideas."

And with all of the additional buzz and media attention on ECU, he's also working hard to keep his team focused. In his words: "We just have to make sure that we don't let the circus atmosphere around a winning program interrupt what we're trying to build right now in between the lines."

In a recent interview, Coach Holtz mentioned that he'd set lofty goals for his program back in 2005, a few months after he was named head coach at ECU:

"Four years ago, when I wrote (goals) up on the board, even I said to myself, 'All right, we ain't achieving that one, that one or that one. Maybe we can get this one,'" Holtz said. "I think there have been little bits and pieces that have helped us get over the hump."

The Pirates had gone 4-8, 1-10, and 2-9 in the three seasons prior to Coach Holtz arriving on the East Carolina campus. But he took the job, following the advice of his father, Lou Holtz, who told him:

"Good jobs don't open up. You take a bad job and make it a good job."

It didn't take him long to see what he was up against. The team lacked a clear vision and had gotten used to losing. Said Coach Holtz:

"I came away from our first meeting with the feeling that this was a very selfish, self-centered team. There weren't a lot of people talking about goals and the big picture. We needed to change the culture and the attitude and change it fast.

We took a project every year. We started with practice facilities, meeting rooms and weight rooms because that's where the players are going to get strong enough to compete, get smart enough to compete and get fundamental enough to compete.

First you have to learn how to compete, then you have to learn how to win and then you have to learn how to handle winning."

I liked this quote from Steve Ballard, ECU's chancellor, who credits the Pirates' coaching staff for the turnaround:

"I've always believed that if you have the right people they will rise to a challenge. And we have the right people."