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SUMMERS: Promises more easily made than kept

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ECU's head coach Scottie Montgomery on the sideline during their game against BYU on Oct. 21, 2017. (Molly Mathis/The Daily Reflector)

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By Nathan Summers
The Daily Reflector

Monday, November 27, 2017

MEMPHIS, Tenn.

There was an unmistakable feeling of deja vu floating around Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium on Saturday afternoon.

Standing at the mouth of the visitors end zone tunnel, East Carolina head coach Scottie Montgomery tried to summarize a second consecutive 3-9 season with the Pirates. The weather was warm and sunny for the dwindling days of November in the Mid-South, a stark contrast to the frigid night in Philadelphia almost exactly one year ago, but the feeling was the same.

So was the message.

Montgomery's team had just been striped by the No. 17 Memphis Tigers in a 70-13 rout that was arguably the worst beating the team has taken since Montgomery's tenure began with two possibly misleading wins. Those wins seem even longer ago in memory, and the many blowout losses have engulfed them now.

Only four total wins have happened since for ECU, and Saturday's floundering performance makes it difficult to imagine where the team will be next September. How different can they become?

It seems clear now that Montgomery will get at least a third season to try to make a hard turn with a team not only facing on-the-field issues, but also financial strife and a growing blasé feeling among fans. There was nothing in this finale on which to build, and that makes for an even tougher offseason for all involved.

Every single college football game is different, as evidenced by the recent upsets alone. But can it be said the team that was gutted by the Tigers from the first play from scrimmage until the merciful final whistle is better than the one that opened 2016 with wins against Western Carolina and N.C. State?

The team that struggled to run the ball all season on offense gave up an unfathomable, program-worst 6,500 yards of offense to its opponents this season. The Tigers got nearly 500 of those in the first half on their way to an unthinkable 49-0 lead at the intermission.

In the face of those daunting facts, Montgomery guaranteed after the game the team will make its first postseason appearance in four seasons in 2018. Seemingly safe from the ax of director of athletics Jeff Compher, the ECU coach perhaps hoped to insert a late positive into the equation.

But those words only turn up the pressure, and this season the coach did not get the on-field execution, nor seemingly the belief from his players, to do more than get halfway to the six wins it would take to make such a postseason trip.

The math is much simpler to figure out than the turnaround. The Pirates must at least win as many games next season as they have the last two years combined, so the guarantee suggests the Pirates of next season will be at least twice as good as the two previous.

Teams like American Athletic Conference titan Central Florida have done it. The Knights went 0-12 in 2015 and 11-0 this season. But it's every bit as rare as it seems.

Shortly after Montgomery left the scene, quarterback Gardner Minshew and wide receiver Trevon Brown, both rising seniors next season, shared an embrace in the same tunnel. There were days this season when that duo produced the only highlights.

If they can somehow impart their determination onto the rest of their team, the Pirates have a chance. But plenty of the team's best players — receivers Davon Grayson and Jimmy Williams among them — are headed out.

That deja vu will undoubtedly continue this offseason, as there is even more uncertainty around ECU athletics in general than there was 12 months ago.

Job security this year is as much based on the athletic program's money issues as it is on wins and losses. The school's bank statement is every bit as big a factor in this offseason as the postgame statements in the wake of a 57-point loss.

Promises are much more easily made than kept.

Contact Nathan Summers at nsummers@reflector.com, 252-329-9595 and follow @NateSumm99 on Twitter.

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