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.
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.