Steve Spurrier forfeited millions of dollars remaining on his contract when he resigned as coach of the Washington Redskins, a move that could pay big dividends for East Carolina. Spurrier's exit from the NFL paved the way for former Redskins quarterbacks coach Noah Brindise to become offensive coordinator of the Pirates.
Brindise had agreed to be the O.C. on John Thompson's first staff at ECU in 2003 -- for about 24 hours -- until the Redskins gave Brindise a salary boost that kept him in the nation's capital. The offensive coordinator position is vital for the Pirates considering Thompson's background as a defensive coordinator at Florida, Arkansas and Southern Miss.
Former Clemson assistant Rick Stockstill was the coordinator last year, and some Pirate fans labeled Stockstill's scheme "standstill" for its problems and lack of passing productivity. ECU had three times as many interceptions (18) as touchdown passes (six).
Brindise's system will have elements of Spurrier's "fun 'n' gun," but it is also influenced by the West Coast style of former Redskins coordinator Hugh Jackson. There will be seven or eight personnel groupings and at least 25 formations.
OffenseReducing turnovers will be Brindise's first order of business. The Pirates finished last season minus-12 in turnover margin.
East Carolina will start a new quarterback, sophomore James Pinkney, as the frontman for what it hopes will be a power running game and a vertical passing dimension.
The offense boasts some weapons. Tailbacks Art Brown and Marvin Townes both have 1,000-yard seasons on their résumés, and speedy receiver Damarcus Fox has big-play potential. The development of the offensive line, which has a new coach, Robert McFarland, and four new starters, will be essential for Brindise's system to be effective.
DefenseAlthough the Pirates yielded 35.7 points per game last season, Thompson concluded that a talent deficit -- and not his new system -- was the problem. That's why ECU loaded up on defensive players in its '04 recruiting class. Safety Zach Baker, a junior college transfer, should help shore up a secondary that allowed 26 touchdowns while intercepting just five passes.
Some position changes should make the Pirates quicker up front, and a better pass rush could solve some coverage problems. Junior Chris Moore is a solid inside linebacker who will likely lead the team in tackles if he can stay healthy for an entire season for the first time.
Thompson expects his defense to play faster, a function of familiarity with the scheme that coordinator Jerry Odom brought in last year from Florida. To play better, the Pirates must be more consistent and give up fewer big plays. Opposing offenses had 24 touchdown plays of 25 or more yards in 2003.
SpecialistsKicker Cameron Broadwell has worked on his range and consistency after hitting 12-of-18 field goals in 2003. Sophomore punter Ryan Dougherty can not only boom spirals, as a 44.5-yard average will attest, but he also has the athleticism to keep return teams honest. Dougherty ran for a touchdown and completed a pass last season.
Final AnalysisThe Pirates appeared to sprint through the learning curve of Brindise's new offense in spring practice, and there may have been a beneficial attitude adjustment as well.
"It's been fun seeing the light bulbs come on," Brindise said. "Instead of thinking in terms of avoiding mistakes, guys are starting to think about making plays."
After a trying year of transition, the program appears ready to stabilize and possibly initiate a U-turn.
"Our methods are in place and our systems are in place," Thompson said. "The foundation is there and we're ready to build. As long as we don't turn the ball over, we're going to be a good football team."
Still, upgrading the overall talent level through recruiting is expected to take some more time.