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Hart orchestrates combo deal for Gilbert, Houston

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Special athletics adviser Dave Hart looks over as new East Carolina AD Jon Gilbert speaks during Gilbert's introductory news conference Monday at the Murphy Center.

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By RONNIE WOODWARD
The Daily Reflector

Monday, December 3, 2018

Football coach Mike Houston and athletics director Jon Gilbert were a package deal for East Carolina, with Pirate special athletics adviser Dave Hart at the controls throughout the process to ensure both would end up as Pirates this week.

Gilbert left Southern Miss to take over as AD of the Pirates — he was introduced Monday afternoon in Greenville — and Houston left James Madison after a 37-6 record in three season with the Dukes. His introductory news conference is set for Tuesday morning.

ECU dismissed football coach Scottie Montgomery on Thursday afternoon, then set its sights on securing Gilbert and Houston, in that order.

“You are really going to like these two guys,” Hart said. “Our fan base is really going to like them, because they are personable and are down to earth. Mike is extremely impressive with his presence and his confidence and work ethic. It’s going to be a nice run for him.”

Houston signed a five-year contract and is set to make an initial guaranteed salary of $1.3 million in his first season. He has a base salary of $500,000, plus his guaranteed money reaches the $1 million mark thanks to a broadcast program payment ($350,000), season ticket sales benefits ($225,000) and Pirate Club obligations ($225,000).

His contract includes a bonus of $20,000 per win against a team from a Power Five conference. An eight-win season nets a $30,000 bonus, and 10 wins in a season equals $40,000.

“An (indoor) practice facility is on the wish list part of it, but it’s on the table because those are the things we need to be competitive,” Board of Trustees Chairman Kieran Shanahan said after the trustees approved the contracts for Houston and Gilbert on Monday morning. “We need to move up in many of the financial categories to not only be competitive, but to play for championships.”

The Charlotte 49ers offered Houston, a Franklin native, their head coaching position early last week, which upped the pressure on the Pirates to progress with their evaluation of Montgomery and subsequent coaching search. James Madison announced Sunday night that Houston was departing for another school, but East Carolina did not make the hire official until Monday’s Board of Trustees meeting.

“(JMU) is a special place and a place that will be hard to ever replicate in future coaching opportunities,” Houston said in a statement Sunday night. “I will always have incredible memories of my time here. ... I am confident in and believe in the players in this program and look forward to following along next year as they make another incredible run (in the Football Championship Subdivision).”

Houston posted an 80-25 combined record at Lenoir-Rhyne, The Citadel and James Madison. His three-season run at JMU was highlighted by winning the 2016 FCS national championship and finishing runner-up the next year.

His final season at The Citadel in 2015 included a 23-22 win at Southeastern Conference member South Carolina.

The Pirates haven’t posted a winning record since an 8-5 mark by coach Ruffin McNeill in 2014, which included a 5-3 record in the American Athletic Conference. Montgomery went 4-20 in AAC action.

“(Houston) has strong North Carolina roots and I felt like that was important and played a factor as well,” Gilbert said. “I don’t think it’s fair to put a timetable on what we are going to do in how many number of years, but what I do think is important is we start the foundation correctly. What I am talking about is the culture in the building has to start there.

“That culture has to be really good. You also have to put the right pieces in place, and that means you have to get all the right people in the right seats on the bus and you have to provide necessary infrastructure to help with that.”

Contact Ronnie Woodward at rwoodward@reflector.com, 252-329-9592 and follow @RonnieW11 on Twitter.

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