Personally…I like this hire…and have to say…didn’t see it coming

Let me preface this post this way.

Next season must be a make or break for Coach Ruff…it has to be. He has a veteran team returning, a horribly weak C-USA to tear through and an 0-2 bowl record to contend with. He made the call to fire his defensive coordinator – but it is not certain that he did so without internal prodding. Nevertheless…a move that indicates our Coach is indeed putting the Pirates ahead of his desire to please those around him and loyalty to a young coach.

smith chocie

Changes afoot…Smith will come in and make an impact…that is assured.

Yes, 2013 is make or break – though probably not in terms of the Coach’s job. He should be able to slice the CUSA butter to the tune of another 8 win season minimum making it virtually impossible to call it unsuccessful. And while one could argue quite convincingly that the Pirates – with another 8 win season – would have won 16 games in two seasons and not beaten a decent team among them. What measure is success?

But, we must look at this as the hand we are all dealt. I still believe that Coach Ruff can evolve into a great Head Coach which will only be that much stronger given continuity and his recruiting prowess. Last season, he made a pivotal hire in bringing in former Pirate – but more importantly – and well-traveled, high-level coach Kirk Doll and there were near instant impacts on the Special Teams play and at Running Back. IMO, a big hire, an important hire, and one worthy of a big atta boy for our HC.

Now, looking at the situation Coach Ruff was in in terms of finding an adequate – nay, an improvement – at DC…a tall task for sure. Not only from a timing standpoint…a month out from NSD, but also with a shoestring budget relative to BCS-rich programs and a fanbase and administration not likely to stomach another “someday” project hire…Ruff, in fairness, was in a fix that even a seasoned HC might find difficult to satisfy.

Yes, Greg Hudson, Tyrone Nix, Randy Shannon (never was going to happen) and a few others – maybe Art Kaufman – were all mentioned, but truly, did we have a chance at any of them? Really? Not likely…Hudson, no matter how loved he would be here, can’t turn down an opportunity to be a DC at a Big Ten school…just can’t…no more than any of us would turn down a job with that much more upside than the one we so love now. Kaufman…really…going to take a pay cut to go to a team with a lesser brand? Nix and Shannon? Both men just found second chances with coaches willing to give them another shot…going to cut out on them after just showing up…didn’t we have one do that just a year or so ago…didn’t think a lot of him now did we?

And, lest we forget, that even if any of the aforementioned gentlemen wanted to come here out of nostalgia, loyalty, whatever…how do they tell their loved ones – with a straight face, ‘hey honey, I am going to turn down the money, leave my current gig, and go take a flyer on a HC who is heading into the final stages of his contract? C’mon.

So, what was left? The need was still there: Must have a DC with experience, a decent coaching resume, a recruiter, and a few nice to haves would include some connection to ECU (more to the point, an appreciation of why you might want to dig in in Greenville) and perhaps an ability to teach players.

I am thrilled that Coach Rick Smith was available and interested. I think that it is a huge improvement right away, not a marginal step. Not only does he have Defensive Coordinator experience – having manned the position at Tulane, Cincinnati, and Kentucky in the past – but also, if nothing else, he has the goods to assess the players on his roster, the decisiveness to determine what they can do schematically, and the veteran savvy to teach them. His old school mentality will mesh well with the troops coming out of Camp Connors each year, and he was part of a staff at ECU previously that knew how to make adjustments in games and between games. And, there is more…he has had a close up view of the Big East now and will be able to bring that to the table for Ruff and crew.

And, I admit, I didn’t see this one coming.

Not even on my radar even though I was hopeful that if Hud was hired, that Coach Smith be coming with him. I had almost forgotten that Coach Smith was a former Defensive Coordinator and didn’t really get the Greenville warm and fuzzy from him when he was here last. When Hud was hired at Purdue, I just figured that Coach Smith would end up there or even land with Skip Holtz. Truth is, for whatever reason, I never had him in the frame as a our DC.

But in hindsight…why not? Man has an impressive history and was certainly good here last time around.

Still there are, of course, questions that remain (which would hold true in some form for any hire, really).

Will Coach Smith be given the latitude to name his own staff or will he have to make do with what we have in the box. No deference to our remaining defensive staff (I particularly like Coach Yellock), but it would seem to me that Coach Smith should be given the platform to succeed in his new capacity. Further, if he has that latitude are there staff out there he would seek? Are there any late recruiting snags he could bring with him? Secondary guys particularly. Does Coach Smith have the capacity to be the DC and still work magic with a secondary that has no identity and perhaps returns less than it is losing? Will his defensive methodologies mesh well with Coach Ruff’s vision for D?

Larger question still…what is Coach Ruff’s vision? Personally, I still don’t really see the big picture view of our program…not sure what we are built on. In the past, the HCs had very notable philosophies…Logan with his carve-them-up offenses and opportunistic defenses…Holtz with his balanced, dependable offense and bruise them defenses…even Baker and Lewis were well defined, for better or worse. But Coach Ruff’s brand is still a mystery to me. Hence, what would any DC bring to the table? Not sure. Only time will tell, but I like Coach Smith’s chances here.

Like the Doll hire, for me, this one has potential because of the deep experience Smith has and the need for that type of experience as Coach Ruff gains his savvy as a HC. He may not be the DC to make us a Top 20 D, but truthfully, right now, we could fare well as a consistent, balanced Top 50 defense…heck even a consistent Top 70 defense. And, I think that because of that veteran savvy – and frankly, his age – Coach Ruff may defer a lot to Coach Smith…let him run with it if you will…because they draw on the same long-in-the-tooth experiences.

Yes…I aspire to higher than that for our Pirates, but we have to walk before we run, no? Will it not be a comforting feeling to know that our defense has at least a 50-50 chance to force a punt or a turnover or give the offense a short field with some predictability? One can dream, right?

Seriously though…I am one who is int he camp that our defense has some pretty good talent and now has a lot of experience. The problem, seemed to me, to be an X and O issue. The sheer confusion that our linebackers and corners seemed to exude game after game seems to me to have been schematic and coaching. The lack of blitzing when it was proving effective…seems to me to be decision-making not play-making.

Yes, I like this hire, situation as it was.

It gives Coach Ruff another credibility chip in his pocket and gives our kids – many of whom have been giving blood, sweat and tears for some time now, an opportunity to show what they can do in a sound system, with the tools being drilled into them properly.

Will we go from meh…to great? Hard to say, but if it yields just one win against a decent opponent, it will have been worth it.

Any way…just a long way to say that I feel we  have just gotten better with today’s news.

How about you guys? Overjoyed? Underjoyed? Uninspired?

Love to hear how others feel.

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24 Comments

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24 responses to “Personally…I like this hire…and have to say…didn’t see it coming

  1. Chris

    Ron, honestly I don’t know how to feel… one thing I will comment on though is you saying this is a make or break year.. I agree, but for a different reason… Most of what I’m reading about conference realignment, and most of these things came from the Big East commissioner himself, is that with all the defections, not only is ECU likely to get an all-sports invite, but will also along with Tulane, be asked to go ahead and join the league next season… The real significance of that, if it’s true, is that the Big East still has one year left for their AQ status… so the Big East champion next year will go to a BCS bowl. We know how we stack up against most of those teams already as they were in C-USA… Am I crazy here to think we have a good shot to get there if we move to the Big East in 2013? We probably would have to beat Cincy to earn that spot. Almost certainly Central Florida Community College will be ineligible next year after they appeal is denied in the next few weeks. I could be looking at this all wrong as I don’t hear or read anyone else talking about the possibility, and of course, until we actually receive those invites, it’s a dream at best anyway. So, let me hear from you or anyone who has heard these possibilities as well. Back to Coach Smith.. Here are the positives we know… Tremendous amount of experience, was the DB coach on one of the best defenses ECU has fielded, and should be able to adjust as you say. The downside is if he’s that experienced and good, why didn’t he stay as a defensive coordinator? What has held him back? I dunno… that being said, I am 1000% behind him and the decision to bring him in and look forward to see what he puts on the field…

    Go Pirates!!!

    • As always Chris…I always look forward to your thoughts on things.

      You know…I have only heard some speculative rumblings about 2013 being a possibility. I do not see it happening for a couple of reasons. First, and most importantly, the money. Now, perhaps we are invited to join in 2013 with a clause saying we get no extra money, but if nothing else, the BE’s moves to date have always been about money. I don’t see the football only schools missing out on a guaranteed payday before the turf changes there…why share unless you have to. Second, I can’t help thinking that the C7 departure will drag on and while they are still int he Big East, they have a say, which won’t be helpful for us.

      Now, let’s say we are a 2013 inclusion…I am not sure how we will stack up in the Big East despite having so many players back. The BE certainly is not so daunting now…we can and should beat ALL the CUSA teams moving in to the league, but beyond that…not sure how we will fare against Cincy and UConn, but hey, as you say, at least we would have a shot and that is something to get excited about. Imagine that…a one year hit and run…before the richest get even richer.

      I like that thought…can hit teh sack on that one.

      If we get the 2013 invite…you can bet your thoughts will become a regular topic here.

      Go Pirates…Go.

  2. rc

    ECU is doing its part to decrease the unemployed in this country. this is the only positive i can see in this hire…i do feel for the kids, because they deserve better. a strong defense coupled with this offense would be a joy to watch next year. a proven leader even from a smaller school would have been a better choice in this situation. why didnt Holtz hire him at L .Tech?

    • That is a good question rc. Or why didn’t Hud go after him for Purdue?

      That said, I had a list I had put out there…but not sure that timing worked for us at all, so my perspective is that this was as good a hire as we could have hoped for given the scenario we have (that is, timing, money, need).

      I will be pulling for his success (as I am sure you will be). Hopefully, he will be successful. Either way, Ruff has to deliver in a big way next season, IMO.

      • ultraviolet

        I didn’t see where Holtz took any former/long time assistants with him to La Tech. I find that curious, possibly revealing. Did they have the opportunity and turn it down, or did he dump them? I believe some of both.

      • Hi UV…glad you stopped by.

        I agree that it was probably a mix. My hope is that Smith, as a co-HC was looking for DC position while Holtz also was probably under pressure NOT to bring his former crew to La Tech – since USF did not work out.

        I think you are probably right in assuming that it was a mix. My thought is that given the situation…Rick may have been our best option. I think he can be successful, but it will rely ultimately on Ruff’s vision and how he approaches defense. Smith certainly has a track record of knowing personnel and how to use them.

        Good to hear from you UV.

      • Mike Yorke

        May be late for this reply but – as to Holtz not having many (any?) of his former assts go to La Tech with him – I heard it was a practical matter mostly.Some of those guys were looking at owning house #3 due to tough sales market. They didn’t want #3 to be in Ruston,LA. Good thinking? Not sure but it made some sense to me.

      • Sounds reasonable to me.

        So what are your thoughts on Coach Smith, Mike? Would love to hear them (here or direct email).

        Hope you are well.

        Cheers!

  3. sean

    Ron, the last one I send had lots of typo’s. This one is the corrected version of what I sent earlier.
    thanks

    Always enjoy reading your perspective. I think Smith is a good hire. IMO we have lacked someone on the def side who can make in game adjustments. Smith has the ability to do that. We have good talent on the def side, we just need someone who can keep it simple and teach. Smith has done these two things where ever he has gone. I often felt that BM was not great at understanding what players best strengths were and using them. Smith I believe will do this, as he has done throughout his career. I suspect Smith’s age more than anything else has kept him from being a DC any where recently. Glad we were able to get him.

    As far as not understanding what Ruff’s overall vision is yet, I think you are on to something. As best I as can tell having watched him for three years now is that he is not a micro manager and allows his staff to insert their own personality on the team. This is why I believe, we have lacked cohesion on the field from time to time.Who and what are the players fighting for? It is clear to me however, that Ruff is a player’s with a good ability to recruit. If he is going to last, and I hope he does, I think he is going to have to learn to be more than just cheer leader on the side. He will need to formulate a vision and then share it with the players. I believe he will learn how to do so.

    • Well articulated Sean…I am with you on the ability to make adjustments…sorely lacking and clearly evident to even casual observers.

      I am happy that Rick is there…hoping this is another step forward (ala, Coach Doll).

      Thanks for sharing…Cheers!

  4. DC Pirate 28

    Ron as always a great article and I agree with so many things you have said. First The Kirk Doll hire along with the rule change was huge. If you remember a few years back we couldnt cover kicks to save our lives and our opponets would start drives on their 40. If you kick off roughly 5 times a game you are giving up roughly 100 yards in field position. I thought Barbour was a huge asset as a kicker as he had great range and never missed. Our new kicker missed a few early has proven to be a solid replacement. Our punter also has a big leg but I would love to see him pinning more kicks inside the 20 than boom them out of the endzone. All in all the special teams were really a huge asset and underrated all year.

    Second I give you credit for calling our teams record out. I expected 8-4 to 7-5. I knew Souther Miss and Houston were going to be down but not to the level they played. Just goes to show the price that is paid when coaches and talent leave at the same time. I was happy for the numbers because of pending expansion hopes but if your honest I think the record was misleading.

    Third Im really getting tired of the coaching turnover in sports. Each week half the teams win and the other half looses while I think in Mitchells case he had to go I think most of the firings are over the top. My hope is that Ruff can figure things out because we cant afford to have him leave. A new guy costs more money usually results in a drop off in recruiting and in the end you still dont know if the man can do the job. If in fact he can, he usually goes to a better job leaving behind a mess. So its a big risk for a short window of success.

    Fourth I totally agree as to what is Ruffs prefered style of play. We went from the Air raid to the I dont know. I thought we had plenty of weapons but did little to take advantage of their skills. I will beat the Justin Jones thing to death but if the guy runs a quick slant nobody could stop it. He’s 6-8 and we throw fade routes to guys that are under 6 feet tall makes no sense to me. We went from a 4-3 to a 3-4 but again both gave up tons of yards and points. I hope we can establish something as I think it could attract better talent. I agree we should do more to honor our guys that play at te next level. How many schools can claim an all pro FB & RB. This is the best form of advertising for ECU Football and it costs nothing.

    As far as the new hire Im sure this man would do a nice job. At a program like ours I prefer great recruiters or guys that have an eye for talent. However our D has been in sad shape from a scheme point of view hopefully we will see better results.

    • Glad to see you checking in DCP…

      Doll’s impact has been noteworthy and I also credit him quite a bit for the RB uptick. Clearly those backs know what to do out there.

      I am hoping that Coach Ruff is galvanized into a great HC through the pains he is experiencing so far. IF he surrounds himself with rock solid staff and he hones his football management skills to HC level to go with his high-intensity passion for ECU and his amazing ability to connect with kids, we might have something. Need more of the former to intensify the latter skills which he has in surplus.

      Finally, I so badly would like to see a comprehensive program involving our former football stars. From a PC perspective, they have done a great job bringing many of the guys back into the fold. What I would like to see is a more tangible, outward display of our former players. The new HoF is going to be nice and do some of that, but we have not done, IMO, such a good job of it in the stadium and the marketing.

      I presume that a lot of it is happening quietly behind the scenes, where guys will role into town – as David Garrard has done in the past – and pop in on the players, interview during a game, make a promo, etc., but I think that is only part of it. I would venture to say that the ECU Cribs video that Dwayne Harris connects more with the future Pirate players than a visit pre-game from a former star. Just my opinion. I do think that we have had enough high level NFL performers now to merit a ring of honor or something akin to it.

      Finally…I hope that as Ruff gains more solid footing on the HC job, his program identity will become clearer. Right now…it seems a little all over the place. I really like where the offense is right now and LR should be given a lot of credit for seeing what he had and taking a step toward optimizing it. The special teams are on the rise, and the defense has new hope – and with the number of experienced players coming back – has potential. That said, we have to win the games we should win (and that means some 8 games at least in 2013) and frankly, win a couple we shouldn’t. In my mind, because of how horrible CUSA is and what lies ahead in the BE, the benchmark for success for this team ought to be 10 wins, a CUSA title, and a bowl win in 2013. Anything less than that and the “who we played” scrutiny will happen and is justified IMO.

      I reserve the right to recant this last graph depending on closer examination of the schedule!!

      Thanks for checking in DCP…and Cheers.

  5. Chris

    Ron, have you heard anything on Lucas Thompson? Is he going to be on the field next fall?

    • Hi Chris…nothing more than what I have seen on various boards. My understanding is that he is committed to coming and trying to lock down all his academics.

      I saw that on some random board. Of course, the pessimistic part of me says if he has not got his academics in order at this point…he may never.

      The optimist says that Ruff has a good track record with the kids they recruit as Hyman and Council are recommited rather than going off elsewhere.

      Cheers!

  6. Ed Keller

    Great post Ron.

    I think there are reasons to be optimistic. First, the bar set by BM is simply not that high. If Smith can reduce the yards gained by 75 – 100 yards per game, the offense is good enough to win some of those games it lost last year, including the bowl game. Second, I like the maturity. I think youth has it’s place and am very encouraged by LR’s development as a coach (more later). That said, you need experience at the OC, DC, and STC positions. Experience generally increases one’s ability to assess a situation and the confidence to adjust to it. Finally, in listening to his Pirate Radio interview, this guy is knowledgable of the Xs and Os and glad to be here. Pirate football is fueled by emotion and the energy it brings. You need it to power over teams with superior talent. A coach who wants to be here is part of that equation.

    I think LR improved leaps and bounds as an OC this past year. He recognized the talent he had on the field at RB and move us away from the Air Raid to a more balanced attack. His in-game adjustments were much improved from his first two years. As I mentioned above, if the deffense had been a bit more effective, we would have won the bowl game and maybe won a few others a bit more comfortably (how many yards did Marshall gain on us?). The thing to watch will be if we can keep LR after next year (assuming we’re successful) or will some other team gain the benefits of all the hard lessons learned we’ve had to endure (particularly in the 2011 season).

    Good luck to Coach Smith and to all of us!

    • Totally agree Ed…thanks for commenting!

      It is unfortunate that we have to endure the learning curve, but maybe, maybe the success will be enough and the opportunity for Riley greater if he stays.

      Perhaps the league affiliation mess will further sort us into a better situation and hence make us a more attractive program for a young coach to stay. Either way, I like the maturity at DC as well.

      Cheers!

  7. rc

    Pharma…in your comment about pulling for Rick’s success, i am absolutely pulling for him and ECU. it was refreshing listening to his press conference answering questions directly without talking about this or that package nonsense. he also spoke about using different defenses for different situations…including adjusting constantly. i liked his confidence and demeaner. he talked about accountability through the whole program which was good to hear. it is nice to hear a coach drop all the politicly correct jargon…now if we can only get Ruff to talk this way. thanks for the Port!

  8. plane

    Nice summary of the situation. Ruff hasn’t shown yet that he can truly succeed and time is running out. Needs a win versus the three ACC opponents to make some kind of a statement in 2013. ECU fans know football and know that the eight wins were due simply to scheduling. Barely beat some who couldn’t walk and chew gum at same time. It’s time for a clear step forward. Smith can help ECU take that step IMO but it’s not a lock to be sure. Talk is just talk. See you versus ODU.

    • Welcome plane…good to hear from you.

      You are right…many a slip twixt cup and a lip…for sure. That Coach Smith was hired speaks well of Ruff’s maturity, but until the product improves, it is all just hope. Paper lions are not all that scary.

      Hopefully we see near instant results. Hopefully we get some positive indicators during spring camp.

      Thanks for dropping in plane.

      Go Pirates, GO!

  9. don

    Ron, We need a CEO, we got a really good guy who is a great teacher.

    • Amen to that Don…I think you are hitting it on the head…

      The bigger question to me is, can one become a CEO after a full career outside of the C-Suite?

      I hope so.

      Hope you are well.

      Go Pirates, Go!

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