New coach Montgomery settles in at East Carolina
GREENVILLE, N.C. (AP) First-year ECU coach Scottie Montgomery isn't trying to turn the Pirates into Duke East.
The Pirates hired Montgomery from the Blue Devils' staff after last season and want him to rebuild the program his own way, and not necessarily by duplicating what his Duke teams did.
The 38-year-old Montgomery, brought in to replace the fired Ruffin McNeill, spent two seasons as Duke's offensive coordinator and was on his alma mater's staff from 2013-15 after a three-year run coaching the Pittsburgh Steelers' receivers.
''People (said) when I left Pittsburgh to come back to Duke that we were going to look like (the Steelers),'' Montgomery said. ''The problem was, we didn't have (star receivers) Antonio Brown or Mike Wallace. … It's different. Our fundamental beliefs about doing things the right way and serving our community will be similar, the way that we hold our kids accountable will be similar. But that's where a lot of the similarities will stop.''
The key difference might be this: While Montgomery's most recent Duke team ran its quarterback often, that probably won't be the formula with the Pirates. So don't expect transfer Philip Nelson to lead East Carolina in rushing like Thomas Sirk did with the Blue Devils.
Nelson threw for 2,179 yards and 17 touchdowns in 16 starts for Minnesota from 2012-13, transferred to Rutgers with the hope of playing in a pass-friendly system but was dismissed from the team days after his involvement in a nightclub fight that left another man with a serious brain injury.
The 22-year-old walked on at East Carolina before last season, earned a scholarship from Montgomery, won the job during spring ball and saw some of his competitors leave the program.
''I've had some really good quarterbacks,'' offensive coordinator Tony Petersen said. ''There's not a negative (in his game). He's just going to keep getting better and better.''
Keep an eye on two players that the Pirates figure to feature: WR Zay Jones and jack-of-all-trades James Summers. Jones enters the season at No. 3 on the school's career lists for receptions (241) and yards receiving (2,553). Summers has played receiver and quarterback – making four starts in 2015, and rushing for 169 yards in a victory over Virginia Tech – and also practiced at running back and tight end. ''We think that he has position flexibility,'' Montgomery said before reeling off a list of the spots he could play. ''I've never been able to say that about any kid that I've ever coached. Ever. In any situation.''
Montgomery's debut, and Nelson's first start in three years, comes Sept. 3 when the Pirates play host to Western Carolina of the FCS.
The chip-on-the-shoulder Pirates always get fired up to take on Power 5 opponents, and they face three in a row before beginning American Athletic Conference play. East Carolina plays host to North Carolina State on Sept. 10, followed by trips to South Carolina and Virginia Tech. The Pirates have won two straight in their series with both the Wolfpack and Hokies.
The Pirates were picked fifth in the American's six-team East Division. With that brutal nonconference schedule and in an improved league, a second straight 5-7 finish might be considered a good year as they continue their transition from McNeill to Montgomery.