Green Bay Packers rookie Raven Greene offers a suggestion for East Carolina football fans who might be disgruntled: if they follow his advice they’ll be confident new head coach Mike Houston can revive the sagging program.
“They should watch a video of one of his pre-game speeches,” said Greene, who played safety for Houston in 2016 and 2017 at James Madison University. “They’ll be excited. He’s a fiery guy, a great guy.”
Those Houston videos can be easily found with posts from ncaa.com and youtube.com.
Houston, 47, was named ECU’s 22nd head coach on Tuesday. He has compiled an 80-25 career record at three schools, JMU (37-6), The Citadel (14-11) and Lenoir-Ryhne University (29-8).
In 2016, he arrived at JMU, a Football Championship Subdivision member, and led the Dukes to a national title his first season. There was a national runner-up finish in 2017 and a third postseason trip until a second-round exit in 2018.
“When he came he set a good foundation and earned our trust,” Greene said. “The way he carries himself we knew he was a man of his word. He has a good system. We had a lot of success in his tenure.”
JMU’s second-round loss on Dec. 1 opened the door to a rapid series of events resulting with Houston landing in Greenville by Dec. 4. He has a five-year contract with a base deal of $500,000 and other money slated to pay him from $1.3 million in 2019 to $1.67 million in 2023.
The task he faces starts with the Pirates coming off a third straight 3-9 season. Scottie Montgomery was fired with one game remaining in his third season with a 3-26 overall record.
Reviving ECU is different for Houston than inheriting a winning team at JMU, but Greene pointed out Houston also turned around losing programs at The Citadel and Lenior-Rhyne.
“Obviously he has experience with that, being at different places,” Greene said. “I’m certain he’ll have success at East Carolina. I wish him the best.”
Montgomery’s awkward dismissal on Thursday, two days before the Pirates lost 58-3 at N.C. State, angered his players. ECU Chancellor Cecil Staton offered a timeline that helped explain how a chaotic and puzzling Thursday-through Saturday turned to rapid-yet-orderly announcements on Monday that Jon Gilbert of Southern Mississippi was hired as the new athletic director and Houston was introduced on Tuesday.
Staton said he and Dave Hart, a former ECU athletic director serving as an advisor to Staton, had previously identified both Gilbert and Houston as a top targets. With the decision to fire Montgomery reached, Montgomery was allowed to inform his team Thursday rather than the players hearing the news through leaks. That was the case in 2015 when players learned through social media Ruffin McNeill was fired.
“We could have waited until Saturday, but in fairness to Scottie we knew the decision,” Staton said. “We have great admiration for Scottie. He brought discipline and he was a great recruiter, but it just didn’t work in terms of wins. That’s the business these guys are in.
“We wanted to get into the search mode quickly in a volatile market. Other things were happening behind the scenes.”
Word had leaked that Charlotte, a Conference USA member after moving up to the Football Bowl Subdivision, had contacted Houston. Once Gilbert and Staton signed a Memorandum of Understanding on Dec. 1, Staton, Hart and Gilbert decided Houston needed to be reached quickly as their top target.
“As soon as I was contacted by East Carolina University, there was no doubt what my desire was and that was to be the head football coach here,” Houston said. “This is a job that I identified, in my past, as being somewhere that I would pursue trying to have this opportunity.”
Houston mentioned his ties to the state as the reason he understands ECU’s proud football history. He graduated from Franklin High and played at Mars Hill University. He coached high school football in North Carolina before he was a head coach at NCAA Division II Lenoir-Rhyne in Hickory.
“I’m excited about our alumni,” Houston said. “I’m excited about our fan base. I want to establish a strong bond between those groups and our football program. We are Eastern North Carolina’s football program. In time, we will be North Carolina’s football program. We’re excited to be here, and we’re excited for the opportunity of what we can build.”