Too Early to Judge?
by Eric Gilmore

Where will James Pinkney rank among all-time ECU quarterbacks? Will Aundrae Allison be the best wide receiver ever to don an ECU uniform? Will Skip Holtz’ coaching status rival the likes of Pat Dye and Steve Logan, eventually raising him to a Greenville legend?

Is it too early to tell? Bluntly, yes. Give or take a few decades, but who’s counting? Despite the lack of perspective, let’s have a little fun.

What better time than during fall camp, with expectations continually rising as the season approaches, to play fortune teller? Like most preseason magazines, if the predictions become accurate, the expert becomes validated. However, if not, the guess-timators still cashed checks based on your entertainment. It’s a win-win.

These predictions are based on all parties either meeting expectations for 2006 or posting comparable numbers to 2005. Ask any coach; either meeting fans’ demands or rekindling a previous season isn’t easy. However, I say, it’s not too much to ask.

So where exactly will Pinkney rank among the best ECU signal-callers? Believe it or not: second. Assuming Pinkney doesn’t get injured, which could potentially ruin a promising 2006 season, the senior quarterback will likely finish second in career passing yards, completions and total offense. Pinkney also could eclipse his second-place ranking for the top passing performances in a season by becoming the first to throw for more than 3,100 yards.

The Delray Beach, Fla. native, who a year ago, was relearning yet another offense under a new head coach. A year later, the coaching staff has added more weapons-depth at running back and wide receiver- and a scheme conducive for Pinkney’s style. Heady and athletic, Pinkney has the tools to become a fringe NFL quarterback. He rarely makes mistakes, has superior arm strength, touch and the ability to scramble.
The knock on Pinkney is his lack of leadership and inability to captain a successful season, namely a bowl. Instead of Jeff Blake’s magical 11-1 year, Pinkney has undergone the inverse, starting four games in miserable 2003. Another negative includes briefly getting booted from the team because of poor academics. And yes, the spread schemes have been contributing factors to the 6-3, 220-pounder’s success.

Despite the pessimism, Pinkney’s statistics don’t lie. He will have started four consecutive years under center, automatically placing him in Marcus Crandell and David Garrard’s tier. He’s more talented than Crandell and makes better decisions than Garrard, who had trouble looking off his first receiver. Whether it’s Jeff Blake, who doesn’t have the career numbers or Garrard, who posted his most impressive season as a sophomore, ends up atop the chart, Pinkney won’t be far behind.

Aundrae Allison will graduate, being, yes, the best-ever ECU receiver in spite of only suiting up for two years. Despite his junior college-shortened career, Allison realistically could end up with numerous ECU receiving yards, including the prestigious career receiving yards. How ridiculous is that?

Consistently, Allison can’t compete with Mitchell Galloway, Jason Nichols or Troy Smith’s career receptions numbers. He’d also be hard-pressed to double his touchdown total in 2005 (7) to reach Larry Shannon’s 21 touchdown career. Another product of the pass-happy offense, which Terry Gallaher didn’t see in the wishbone, Allison has already outflanked the Logan-era receivers. As the only true option on a decent team, Allison set the school record in receiving yards in a season (1,024) and would have outdone Terrance Copper’s single-season receptions record had he not torn his MCL in the season finale.

Barring another leg or knee injury, he will be a first-day draft pick, likely becoming a higher selection than Larry Shannon. Midway through last season, Holtz credited Allison with being one of the best receivers he’s ever coached, a list which includes “Rocket” Ismail and Troy Williamson.

Judging by pure talent, Allison doesn’t have the physical tools as a Shannon or Smith, but does have the ability to add yards after-the-catch. Only Dion Johnson and Keith Stokes, both sparkplugs, were arguably better with the ball in their hands. But having the best combination of size and strength, getting off the line, the ability to haul in tough catches and touting soft hands belongs to Allison.

The man whom recruited Allison to ECU, Skip Holtz has a chance to join legend status in the archives of ECU head coaches. And I’m not referencing the feature on EA Sports newest NCAA 2007 video game. Holtz’ 2005 team showed promise, albeit small, that big wins are headed to Greenville. The question remains whether Holtz will stay long enough, either by his own decision or those made by administrators, to make enough of an imprint on the program.

Time is a Holtz ally. At 42 and in peak physical condition, Holtz has enough energy to man the sidelines for another 20 years. Anything beyond his mid-60s, will be on his accord. If his bloodlines are any indication, with Lou being a job jumper, the younger Holtz won’t be in a Pirate hat too much longer.

Of course, Holtz needs to win. With five wins in 2005, he created enough wiggle room to have job security for the next four years. For now, Holtz seems content with living in Greenville, instilling roots at a philanthropic level. He has younger children, who are impressionable, and being a coach’s son himself, it has made Holtz aware of the negatives associated with constant family up-rooting.

Call it a gut feeling. But Holtz has made it clear his goals are to step out of his father’s shadow. Living in it for so long, Holtz has an opportunity to prolong his own legacy, something he had trouble doing as a player. Aside from the obvious will to win, Holtz is determined to shake the ‘Lou’s son’ moniker. To do it though, Skip will have to be in a larger profile job with more media attention.

For that reason, I say, the younger Holtz stays five years before landing a bigger job. He will be remembered in the same breath as Dye, who left ECU eventually landing an SEC gig. The difference is that currently, Holtz has the financial support of the athletic department, including athletic director Terry Holland. Having Holland in place with current Chancellor Steve Ballard, makes Holtz’ job much easier.

Now, as any other coach has to do, all Holtz has to do is tally wins. With a brutal non-conference slate for the next couple of years, it remains critical that Holtz’ teams develop enough confidence to pull out close wins. Holtz’ resume will depend on how quick the winning swagger is developed. Holtz probably won’t near Logan’s win total or the amount of respect that Clarence Stasavich has in building the program, but he is a far cry from John Thompson.

Unlike most of this column, that much is certain.

Eric Gilmore