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Football, seafood mix at AAC event

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By RONNIE WOODWARD
The Daily Reflector

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

NEWPORT, R.I. — East Carolina athletics director Jon Gilbert found time to put on a swimsuit by mid-afternoon Monday, and ECU football coach Mike Houston sneaked in advice to Pirate receiver Deondre Farrier on the proper cracker-to-oyster ratio when Houston was between interviews at American Athletic Conference football media days.

Monday afternoon marked the start of hours of interviews and photo shoots and other media obligations for Houston and ECU player representatives Farrier and Alex Turner for the two-day event.

There will be more media sessions today, but Monday night served as a relaxing opportunity for players, coaches, administrators, media members and staff associated with the AAC to mingle at Gurney’s Newport Resort and Marina and participate in the league’s annual clambake dinner. The night determines who loves seafood and who prefers to stay away from shellfish and other fresh-cooked sea creatures.

“I love lobster and clam chowder and everything else,” Houston, who was hired by the Pirates in December from James Madison, said of his appetite for seafood that Monday night equaled two lobsters eaten. “So this is a great venue for it.”

Like Houston, Gilbert is experiencing AAC media days on the water for the first time after previously serving as AD at Southern Miss from January of 2017 until last December, when he was hired away by ECU.

Unlike Houston, who just completed a family vacation, Gilbert brought his wife, Katie, with him beginning Saturday.

By Monday afternoon, after Gilbert completed another round of meetings with other AAC administrators, the Gilberts already had seen nearby mansions and walked along the famous Newport Cliff Walk.

“It is a little weird because normally I’m at work and she only sees me just a little bit during the day,” the Pirates’ first-year athletics director said. “She has seen me a lot more, so I am just making sure that I am still in good graces with her and am not boring her to death.”

In addition to some fun, Gilbert also has needed to be in business mode since arriving in Rhode Island. He said meetings have consisted of talking general league operations to football specifics and long-term thoughts on the AAC headquarters remaining in the Northeast or moving to Texas.

Houston, SMU, Tulsa and Tulane account for one-third of the teams in the spread-out league, and Connecticut is in the process of leaving the AAC to return to the Big East.

The Media days event is in contract to remain at Gurney’s for 2020 and 2021, but after that the future is uncertain.

“I think the benefit of having things like this, during AD meetings, is that (Sunday) night I got to see multiple people from ESPN that you don’t normally see and there were a lot of bowl (executives) here,” Gilbert said. “The value of those relationships, come bowl season, is these last couple of days was time well spent because you do get to see those individuals. That is one of the real key benefits of being here.

“We are in a unique setting, but I also think there is an opportunity to look at another venue in the future to go to a more traditional setting. Certainly we can do that, I just don’t know if the clams and lobster would follow.”

AAC commissioner Mike Aresco will give his annual public address about the league this morning. Then coaches and players will be asked to do more interviews.

Gilbert added that when he was at Southern Miss in Conference USA, the league held its summer media event in Frisco, Texas, for a quicker in-and-out session compared to his long weekend in Newport.

Houston and the other ECU representatives arrived Monday, ready to check out the area and mix closely with other AAC teams.

“Being my first time in the league, I don’t know many of these guys very well,” Houston said of the other coaches. “This is a good opportunity to get to know them better.”

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

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