East Carolina’s 59-41 loss last week to Memphis left the Pirates four wins shy of bowl eligibility with four to play. Normally, a 2-6 record doesn’t prompt bowl questions.
But a year ago coach Scottie Montgomery promised the post-season despite a 70-13 loss to Memphis in the season finale.
The Pirates, winless in AAC play at 0-5, face four teams with a combined 19-16 record: Saturday, 4 p.m. at Tulane (4-5) followed by Connecticut (1-8), at Cincinnati (8-1) and at N.C. State (6-2).
Four observations entering the stretch:
THE FINAL FOUR
Montgomery’s hasn’t tried to walk-back his prediction. The former Duke offensive coordinator needs two wins to top 3-9 records his first two seasons in Greenville.
“Listen, all my chips are on this football team,” he said. “Those young men in the locker room, I love them. We’ve got to play well. One thing we have to realize is things change slowly and then suddenly.
“I told our team, and I used one of our coaches as example, one day you wake up with a gray hair in your beard and then another. Suddenly you wake up and you have a beard full of gray hair. We have to regroup and get our first conference win. And then we’ll go from there.”
WHO ARE PIRATES PLAYING FOR?
From true freshman quarterback Holton Ahlers to senior right tackle Garrett McGhin, the Pirates are playing for Montgomery’s job -- and more.
McGhin: “We don’t like losing. We’re not playing just to save somebody’s job. This is attached to my name. When I leave East Carolina I want wins with my name. I’m not worried about Coach Mo. He’s a grown man and will take care of his family regardless. We want to get East Carolina back to playing Pirate football. He’s a great coach. We’ve just got to do the little things and execute.”
Ahlers: “There isn’t another coach I’d like to have coaching me. We believe in him; he believes in us. We want to win for him because he deserves it.
THE A.D. QUESTION
Montgomery lost a football coach’s greatest ally, the athletic director that hired him, when Jeff Compher was fired in March. A new A.D. isn’t expected to be in place until after season, so it is hard to know how he or she will evaluate him.
Will the final record as well as dwindling attendance weigh heaviest? What about statistical improvements offensively and defensively? There also is improved team chemistry from roster a year ago that that quit down the stretch. Will Montgomery’s recruiting coup, keeping Ahlers home, be recognized?
“Well, it’s hard to say whether it’s a positive or a negative when you’re just going to work,” Montgomery said. “Some of the things that we wanted to get done, a training table, we weren’t able to get those done the way that we would have liked and it’s hopefully something that will come here in the future. I can’t necessarily say if it’s been a negative or a positive.”
Former ECU athletic director Dave Hart has been serving as special adviser for athletics to Chancellor Cecil Staton. He was ECU’s A.D. from 1987 to 1995 before his athletic positions at Florida State, Alabama and Tennessee.
“I will say that having Dave Hart has really shed a light on some of the things we need to grow in,” Montgomery said. “Having that hood raised and some honesty and everything, not only in the program, but outside of the program and everything connected to it. Having him has been very beneficial to us.”
A LENGTHY WALK-ON
Tyler Snead, a true freshman slot receiver from Millbrook High, must have walked from Raleigh to Greenville to earn his walk-on roster spot.
Snead, a 5-foot-7, 166-pounder, isn’t in the ECU media guide and wasn’t added to the ECUPirates.com online roster until after the Memphis game. But he caught five balls for 50 yards, including breaking a tackle at the 5-yard line to finish a 13-yard touchdown pass from Ahlers on fourth-and-goal from the 13.
“He catches the ball, he’s electric and he works hard,” Ahlers said. “I trust him and he’s going to do a lot more.”
Montgomery liked Snead’s work in practice and gave him added work with the playing units during the bye week. ECU can still preserve his redshirt season by limiting him to only three more games.