ECU hires Houston as football coach, Gilbert as AD

After taking nine months to fill its AD vacancy, the Pirates move quickly to fill its opening for a new football coach

New ECU football coach Mike Houston protests a referee's call during the first half of an FCS playoff game between James Madison and Delaware last month (Daniel Lin//Daily News-Record via AP)

  It took nine months for East Carolina to fill the opening it had for a permanent athletic director.

  Once the Pirates settled on Southern Mississippi’s Jon Gilbert for the job, it took him less than a day to hire a new football coach.

  Mike Houston, who led James Madison to an FCS national championship during a three-year tenure with the Dukes, was named to lead the football program forward after last week’s firing of former coach Scottie Montgomery

  The hirings were announced simultaneously Monday, bringing some badly needed to a stability to a an athletic department that has been in a state of flux since former director Jeff Compher was asked to resign last March.

  “Today marks an enormously significant new beginning for ECU athletics and a proud day for all Pirates,” chancellor Cecil Staton said in a statement announcing Gilbert’s arrival.

  Gilbert signed a five-year contract to join the Pirates.


  Although he has no direct ties to Greenville, he is familiar with ECU special advisor Dave Hart from having worked as an assistant to him while both were at Tennessee and Alabama. The 49-year-old has been on ECU’s radar since its search committee was formed on Oct. 25 and emerged as the likely choice early last week.

  While the Pirates actively pursued Gilbert, the opposite appears to have been the case with Houston.

  According to published reports, the native of Franklin in Western North Carolina was all set to become the next coach at Charlotte until ECU announced its decision to fire Montgomery last Thursday.

  At about the same time, Charlotte publicly rescinded its offer to Houston, leading to speculation that the coach was more interested in pursuing the opportunity at ECU. Rumor turned into reality Sunday, only 24 hours after the Pirates were beaten 58-3 at NC State to finish a third straight 3-9 season, when news of Houston’s hiring began to break.

  Like Gilbert, he signed a five-year contract. Financial terms were not immediately disclosed. Both the coach and his new boss will be formally introduced at a press conference on Tuesday.

  “Mike made it perfectly clear to me this is the job he covets and he fully understands the tradition and prestige of Pirate football,” Gilbert said in a statement announcing Houston’s hiring. “He is a man of high integrity, a great communicator and believes in molding student-athletes on and off the field.

  “He’s going to be a great asset to our university and the Greenville community. I know he can’t wait to get started and he and his staff will work tirelessly to get the Pirates back on a path to success.”

 Houston, 47, led JMU to the FCS playoffs in all three of his seasons with the Dukes, compiling a 37-6 record that included a 34-14 win against ECU at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium in the 2017 season opener.

 He earned national Coach of the Year honors for guiding his team to the FCS national championship in 2016, then played for the title again the following season — finishing 14-1 both years. JMU went 9-4 this season, finishing second in the Colonial Athletic Association.

  The graduate of Mars Hill, where he played tight end, previously coached at The Citadel and Lenoir-Rhyne. His overall career record is 80-25 with six conference championships in eight seasons as a head coach.

  His buyout from JMU, where he signed a 10-year contract extension last year, was $750,000.

  “Mike has worked his way up the coaching ranks and has a track record of success at every program he has led,” said Gilbert, who comes to ECU after spending just under two years at Southern Miss.

  Since his hiring in January 2017, Gilbert has overseen facility upgrades, added volleyball as the school’s 17th intercollegiate sport, negotiated a multisport apparel deal with Adidas, hired Conference USA’s first full-time nutritionist and seen the second-highest membership in the Eagle Club.

  In the classroom, 17 of Southern Miss’ teams met or exceeded the national average of NCAA Academic Progress Rate standards and on the field, the Golden Eagles boasted three conference championships and nine NCAA All-America selections.

  “Jon Gilbert is a terrific person and outstanding administrator,” Hart said. “He understands that how you treat people matters. ECU Athletics is in the hands of a very strong leader who will immediately embrace the Pirate Nation.”