All Roads Lead Back East
Shankweiler, Smith and Thompson return to coach at ECU
Sept. 7, 2005
by Jody Jones, Associate Director of Media Relations
In 1492 Columbus set sail for the "New World," and at the end of his westward journey discovered a land filled with restless natives. Over five hundred years later another quest set sail from afar and disembarked where the natives were restless once again.
First-year East Carolina head Coach Skip Holtz arrived in Greenville last December and was greeted by an alumni and fan base that watched their beloved Pirates sink to the bottom of the college football pedigree at the turn of the century after enjoying sustained success throughout the 1990s. Holtz' biggest challenge is to return this proud program back to the status its enjoyed during the decade of the 90s and bring its rabid "nation" of fans a renew sense of pride.
"I can't tell you how excited I am, how committed I am, to turning this program back around into what it's been," said Holtz at his initial press conference.
As Holtz embarked upon his journey, he brought on board several coaches that had East Carolina ties and were a part of the program at its highest point throughout the previous decade. "I think the East Carolina background flavor is important because this place in unique," said Holtz. "I need people who understand the history of East Carolina, where it's been, the success it's had in the past and what they were doing then compared to what we're doing now to turn and get that back."
The Pirates' first-year head coach turned to a pair of former ECU assistants and one of the greatest players to ever don the purple and gold to help steer the ship: Steve Shankweiler, Donnie Thompson and Junior Smith.
Holtz's first hire was Thompson, a former ECU defensive line coach, as Assistant Head Coach. Thompson spent two years on Art Baker's coaching staff in the late 1980s. Thompson has over 30 years of coaching experience and has helped produce numerous National Football League players, including Carolina Panthers' starting defensive end Julius Peppers.
"I'm excited that someone with Donnie's experience, character and integrity will be in a position to make an impact, not only to our program, but to the entire eastern North Carolina region," said Holtz in a statement.
"His reputation as a recruiter and coach speak for itself, as do his values as a leader of young men. The fact that he chose to return to the East Carolina University family serves as a true testament to the outstanding support of the Greenville community and Pirate Nation."
After Baker was dismissed as coach after the 1988 season, Thompson spent the next 12 years as defensive line coach at North Carolina, helping the Tar Heels to seven bowl games during his tenure. He was part of a staff that captured national statistical titles in turnover margin (1996) and scoring defense (1997).
Thompson spent the past four years as defensive line coach at Illinois. Holtz didn't have to look outside his office suite at the University of South Carolina to find an offensive coordinator that was an integral part of some of the greatest moments in Pirate football history, Steve Shankweiler.
Shankweiler is in his third tour of duty in Greenville and already has 10 years of service at the University. He first came to ECU in 1987 as the Pirates' offensive line coach for Coach Baker and was promoted to co-offensive coordinator in 1990 by former head coach Bill Lewis, playing a key role in arguably the greatest season in Pirate history in 1991.
Basking in the enjoyment of the Pirates' successful 1991 campaign, Shankweiler followed Lewis to Georgia Tech, where he served as the Yellow Jackets' offensive coordinator from 1992-95, guiding the Ramblin' Wreck to its second-highest rated offense in school history.
Shankweiler returned to ECU in 1998 and helped the Pirates to three consecutive bowl games from 1999-2001 and coached Sherwin Lacewell and Brian Rimpf to first-team All-Conference USA honors.
He later joined the coaching staff at Cincinnati in 2003 and was then united with Holtz at South Carolina in 2004.
Shankweiler and Thompson served together at ECU for two years during Baker's tenure, with Shankweiler staying on to serve under Lewis after Baker's departure. Thompson left after that 1988 season to begin a 12-year stretch at North Carolina.
Of all of Holtz's staff members with ECU ties perhaps none understands the heritage and history of ECU Football as running backs coach Junior Smith, the school's all-time leading rusher.
"I am extremely excited to come back to North Carolina and have a chance to represent my alma mater on the football field and recruit good student-athletes," said Smith.
As a player at ECU, Smith rushed for 3,745 yards from 1991 to 1994 and was a three-time All-America selection. After he completed his eligibility at ECU, Smith spent two seasons in the CFL before returning to Greenville to complete his undergraduate class work and earn his bachelor's degree in 1997. From there he went on to coach at both Illinois State and Army under former ECU offensive coordinator Todd Berry. Last season he served as running backs coach at the University of Louisiana-Monroe.
"We couldn't have brought a better role model and person of high character and class back to East Carolina University," said Holtz in a statement. "From a recruiting standpoint, Junior will certainly bring our staff and program a wealth of ECU and eastern North Carolina knowledge. He was a great student and athlete and obviously knows what it takes to succeed here."
Smith posted three consecutive 1,000-yard rushing seasons as a player at ECU and rushed for over 100 yards 16 times. He was among the top 10 candidate for the 1994 Doak Walker Award. In addition to three honorable mention selections to the Football News All-America team, Smith was a three-time All-South Independent pick.
In the classroom, Smith was the recipient of the 1994 St. Jude Liberty Bowl Scholar-Athlete Award and the 1995 Texas-Gulf Phosphate Outstanding Male Scholar-Athlete Award.
These men understand what East Carolina is all about. It's about more than just winning, it's about taking pride in whom you are and whom you represent. As the sails go up on the 2005 football afternoon, expect these three men who run onto the field with same sense of anxious pride that they did when they landed ashore at ECU years ago.