“When I was going to Rhode Island for the American Athletic Conference Media Day, I looked around and saw Shane Carden, Justin Hardy, Maurice Falls and Brandon Williams, and then it dawned on me that this is their fifth year and that they’ve all been with us from the beginning. It’s been an exciting year not just for our program, but our university going into the new conference. I know our administrative team has been preparing for this move for a long time, so we’re looking forward to officially diving into it.
“This process began after the bowl game. Our first phase started with the best strength coach in the country, Coach (Jeff) Connors, and he attacks it and gets after them. That’s my first indicator. When Coach C gets through with them, he tells me what he thinks the strengths are and the key words I look for are ‘great team chemistry.’
“The second phase was spring football, which I thought we attacked well. My coaches and players did a great job of preparing and getting ready. Phase three was the summer and going back to Coach Connors. He raised the levels of standards and expectations during the summer for our team. Now we’re in phase four, fall camp, which began on August 3rd and will continue until game week.
“I’ve been doing this for 34 years, and last night, one of our points is we teach our freshmen the different phases. One night I’ll discuss turnovers and how important they are, another night Rick (Smith) and Lincoln (Riley) will talk about first down and second down importance, and then John Wiley and Dave Nichol will talk third down, fourth down and so on.
“We have a great group of freshmen that are very talented. That first day of Division I football is a surprise. I’m fortunate to have not just one of the best staffs in the country, but the best staff up and around. So last night, I was up on the board with the freshmen, and some of them were hanging their heads a little bit. They didn’t understand why they weren’t getting 70 reps a day, but now it’s maybe 10. It was their first organized day here at East Carolina. I love that excitement.
“Last night, I did some math and said that the freshmen had been here for 32 hours. That’s 1,900-plus minutes. I told them it’s been 34 years, 406 months, 12,000-plus days, 300,000 hours and 18 million minutes I’ve been coaching. I told them that once they’ve put in 18 million minutes, then they can tell me what to do. In those 34 years, I haven’t been around a better staff.
“There are two items that I believe in and have been a part of us since day one at East Carolina. It began when I stood behind this podium and was blessed to be named the head coach at my alma mater. It was first built on the team concept. Our dedication toward the team concept by everyone understanding that we all must be in one: ‘What am I doing today to make East Carolina better?’ From the beginning it’s been built block-by-block. We made sure we brought people in that want to make the team great, more than a great player. That concept has not changed and will not. We want to make sure we’re playing our best football the last game we play. We did that well last year. I thought our best game of the year was our last game of the year. Everyone understands that that starts right now.
“The people that are committed to what we want here at East Carolina, will be ready to meet any expectation that is before us. The expectation we have in our rooms far exceeds the expectations outside. The expectations we have will be met based on how well we stay focused on the team concept, and how well we stay dedicated to the vision and mission concept. Both of those are a result of having great mental toughness.
“Each year, the leadership core has grown. The first year, you could count them on one hand. The next year, it might have been one hand and a half. The third year, the leadership continued to grow. Last year, it was even bigger and this year it will be even larger. When those guys who have been a part of the block-building from day one come to me and say this is how we feel and this is what we know, I check it off and tell them I’ve got it.”
On the importance of having many seniors at important positions heading into the new conference:
“Having the veterans who have been through the triumph and disaster, great wins and tough losses and adversity here and there, is half the beauty and makes it an easy and smooth transition. The other half is my coaching staff and the administrative staff. The on-the-field stuff is exciting because we have guys that understand the commitment it takes to perfect and hone their craft, while sharpening the tools in their toolboxes. It will give not only our team nationwide coverage, but also our university, our city and eastern North Carolina the coverage it deserves so much. As a group, we will represent it, conduct ourselves and coach in a first-class manner.”
On being familiar with some of the opponents in The American:
“I noticed it back in the spring when I attended the first conference meeting. It’s great to see that and they’ve all stepped up their programs. They all know the competition level has stepped up. It was great seeing familiar faces.”
On the competitive non-conference schedule:
“It’s definitely one of the most challenging non-conference schedules in the country and it starts with North Carolina Central on national television. The thing with those games is that the one thing we can control is how we prepare. If we focus on ourselves, we’ll be fine. Each game will be a challenge and we’ll have to be at our best, but it will all boil down to how well we stay team and vision-focused. It’s a great opportunity for us.”
On the importance of having success in The American:
“One of the things I’ve been able to notice is that we are led by a commissioner who will not flinch. The thought process of The American is amazing in how it compares to East Carolina – undaunted, pride and passion. The commitment is the key thing. Where there’s trust, there has to be verification. The commitment by our staff to our players has been unyielding. I’m very confident in how we coach, prepare and focus on ourselves, so let’s go tee it up.”
“I’ve been following him for a long time. We’ve always got along great. I respect what he says and what he’s done on the field. He stirs it up with what he says, and I appreciate the compliment, but we’ll just focus on us. I appreciate Coach Spurrier, but his comments didn’t bother me.”
On being picked to finish fourth in The American:
“I appreciate those predictions I guess. Some people chuckled when Shane Carden said that we drown out the noise. That’s not to disrespect anyone, but that’s how we work best. Don’t think we’re not grateful for the attention and recognition, especially when it’s team first. Our players understand that individual recognition comes from team success. We’re overseeing tunnel time right now. It’s always settled on the field. The focus is always on the development of our team. Rick Smith says this all the time: ‘Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, make this day the best that you can. Make it a masterpiece.’ That ties right in with what we do.”
On the offensive line and development of Larry Williams:
“I’ve known our offensive line coach, Brandon Jones, since he was 18 years old. He was an All-Big 12 center, understands the offensive line and teaches it better than anyone I’ve been around. When Brandon has his group, he does a great job of developing. We began that back in the spring. I like the additions of Quincy (McKinney) and Dontae (Levingston). We don’t have to treat those guys like freshmen. They’re juniors and they conduct themselves like that. I’ve been impressed with them so far. Those two guys were recruited very heavily, but they’ve come in and they understand the team concept. They’ve attacked what Brandon wants up front. Larry Williams is one of those guys we need to keep growing. There’s a line of expectations, achievement, thought and push. Larry has all of the talent to get there. I’m looking forward to seeing his progress.”
On reloading versus rebuilding the defensive secondary that lost a number of starters:
“It is a reload. I think we’ve done a good job recruiting the kids who fit there. Coach (Rick) Smith is one of the best secondary coaches I’ve been around. I like the way the secondary is competing and the one thing Rick has developed there is competitive depth. I’m looking forward to watching those guys develop throughout camp.”