East Carolina lands new AD, football coach

New ECU football coach Mike Houston: ‘We are not coming together to just be average’

New East Carolina football coach Mike Houston talks after being introduced during a press conference at the Murphy Center at East Carolina University in Greenville, N.C., Tuesday, Dec. 4, 2018.
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New East Carolina football coach Mike Houston talks after being introduced during a press conference at the Murphy Center at East Carolina University in Greenville, N.C., Tuesday, Dec. 4, 2018.

East Carolina put an end to last weekend’s chaotic events by acting swiftly on Monday with announcements of two hires.

Chancellor Cecil Staton named Jon Gilbert athletic director and Gilbert followed with Mike Houston as football coach. Gilbert arrives from Southern Mississippi, where he has been athletic director since January 2017.

Houston, 47, is from James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Va., where he has coached the Dukes the past three seasons, including a Football Championship Subdivision title in 2016 and runner-up finish in 2017. The Dukes were eliminated in the second round last week by Colgate.

“I am so pleased to welcome Mike Houston, his wife, Amanda and their two boys to the East Carolina family,” Gilbert said in a statement. “Mike has worked his way up the coaching ranks and has a track record of success at every program he has led.

“Mike made it perfectly clear to me this is the job he covets and he fully understands the tradition and prestige of Pirate football. He is a man of high integrity, a great communicator and believes in molding student-athletes on and off the field. He’s going to be a great asset to our university and the Greenville community. I know he can’t wait to get started and he and his staff will work tirelessly to get the Pirates back on a path to success.”

Watch Coach Mike Houston's message to his Citadel team after they upset the Gamecocks. Houston has been named as the new football coach at ECU.

It was only four days ago that ECU’s football team practiced on Thursday morning only to learn at lunch time that former head coach Scottie Montgomery was fired two days before facing N.C. State. Defensive coordinator David Blackwell was named interim coach, but ECU’s injury-riddled team that felt blindsided by the dismissal of a popular coach was routed by the Wolfpack, 58-3.

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On Monday, it appears the dominos have fallen more neatly into place.

Gilbert was anticipated to be named the athletic director on Wednesday night at a Board of Trustees meeting, but no announcement was made. Dismissing Montgomery on Thursday allowed Gilbert’s hands to be free of firing him.

It also allowed ECU to avoid an embarrassing repeat of Montgomery’s firing leaking out through social media. That happened in 2015 when word leaked through social media that Ruffin McNeill, and ECU alum that also was popular with the players, had been fired.

ECU offensive lineman Garrett McGhin, a senior and team captain, alluded to that sentiment among the older players in his post-game comments after the N.C. State loss.

“Being one of the guys who had been in this situation before, I was pleased to hear from (Montgomery) instead of social media,” McGinn said. “It was better to find out from him than social media.”

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Houston’s name also surfaced as a candidate for the open Charlotte game last week, which may have been what touched off the puzzling events. Charlotte athletic director Mike Hill went so far as to publicly state the school had offered Houston its head coaching position before rescinding the offer.

Houston’s success at James Madison made him a hot candidate, but he has deep roots in the state of North Carolina. The Franklin native has a career record as head coach of 80-25 with six conference titles in eight seasons as a head coach at three schools.

After Houston played at Mars Hill University, located about 15 miles north of Asheville, he began his coaching career in the state as a high school assistant at Forbush High in East Bend and later T.C. Roberson in Asheville.

He moved to Brevard College in Brevard in 2006 as defensive coordinator. Next he was the defensive coordinator Lenoir-Rhyne in Hickory from 2007-10. He served as the Bears’ head coach from 2011-13.

His stay at the NCAA Division II school was followed by two years as the head coach at The Citadel (2014-15), an FCS member. But his national profile rose with his FCS playoffs at James Madison.

ECU fans will painfully remember James Madison opened the 2017 against the Pirates with a 34-14 win at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium. The Dukes rolled up 684 total yards with 442 yards rushing and 192 passing.

James Madison finished the 2016 and 2017 seasons with 14-1 records.

“I’m delighted Coach Houston is joining Pirate Nation,” Staton said in a statement. “He brings a winning tradition and high expectations, and we look forward to the coach and his team getting to work.”

The speculation over Montgomery’s future after 3-9 seasons his first two years was fueled by the lack of an athletic director on campus. Jeff Compher, who fired McNeill and hired Montgomery, was fired in March.

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On hiring Gilbert, Staton’s statement said: “Today marks an enormously significant new beginning for ECU athletics and a proud day for all Pirates. During the search process, Jon stood out as a great fit for the proud traditions we have at ECU and for the vision we have for this program. I was especially impressed with Jon’s commitment to the academic and athletic goals for our student-athletes.”

ECU had been without a full-time athletics director since May 1. The school’s Board of Trustees approved a contract buyout for former athletics director Jeff Compher in March. Dave Hart had been the school’s temporary athletics director since Compher’s ouster.

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