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Gilbert: It's not about me

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East Carolina first-year athletics director Jon Gilbert speaks during the Greenville Chamber of Commerce Power Luncheon at the Hilton, Tuesday afternoon. (Juliette Cooke/The Daily Reflector)

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By Nathan Summers
The Daily Reflector

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Jon Gilbert does not want to be the face of East Carolina athletics, and he said as much on Tuesday afternoon.

That certainly does not mean ECU’s new athletics director doesn’t want to make all the big decisions for Pirate sports and plot their collective strategy for success, but Gilbert hopes the identity of his regime as AD will be the athletes and coaches who make the sports happen.

“It’s not about me, and I don’t have all the answers,” Gilbert told a crowd at the Hilton Greenville during the Greenville Chamber of Commerce Power Luncheon, one of his first public appearances since being hired away from the same position at Southern Miss to replace former ECU AD Jeff Compher. “I tell my staff that multiple times. We have great people inside our department, and we have great people in this community, so I’m spending the first 100 days talking and listening about where we’re going.”

There is reason to believe where the Pirates are going is up, especially in the wake of three straight losing football seasons under head coach Scottie Montgomery, which led to Gilbert’s first big ECU decision before he had even sat down in his office.

The former Lenoir-Rhyne football player who once pursued a career as a coach made sure the Pirates got their best man as a coach. Gilbert helped to finalize a deal to bring former James Madison head man Mike Houston to Greenville.

Although there are countless other variables at play, the next, most obvious step is winning again.

“We’ve got to invest,” Gilbert said of turning around the football team. “There are a lot of reasons we were 3-9 over the last three years. Some of that is infrastructure. I want to make sure we’re building the foundation the right way to sustain success. We’ve got really good people in place, but we need everybody on this journey together. We can’t do it by ourselves.”

Gilbert said it’s not his style to expect a certain number of wins in a season from a team or coach.

That said, the new AD expects the progress under Houston to be immediately noticeable, which perhaps is pressure in its own right.

“I do think when we run out of the tunnel at the end of August in Raleigh (for the Pirates’ season opener against N.C. State), you will see a much different football team than you saw last year,” he said. “I’m not saying how many wins that will be, but I do know you’ll see a different team because of the expectations that our coaching staff will place on (the team).”

Gilbert stressed that sports are by far not the most important thing happening on ECU’s campus, but he simultaneously contended that they are the most visible thing.

As he detailed his tenets for a successful department, one of Gilbert’s keys was building a stronger relationship with the community surrounding the university and well beyond the city limits.

“We are not the University of Greenville. We are East Carolina University,” Gilbert said. “Being in the position that we’re in athletically and the visibility, we should be engaging our entire eastern North Carolina communities. It is important to me that we are out.”

Gilbert acknowledged ECU has work to do in order to reconnect with its fans and earn their trust again, but he urged those fans to do their part in the rebuild by buying tickets or season tickets to games.

“We want you to be on campus to be a part of the return of East Carolina football,” Gilbert said. “Engage with us. I am around. I will be visible at our athletic events. I’m being talked into starting a Twitter account, which I’ve never done. I don’t know if they’ll be successful or not.”

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

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