RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — David Blackwell has inherited a difficult job on short notice.
He’ll lead East Carolina as its interim coach in Saturday’s trip to North Carolina State in what has already been a difficult season, and it comes just two days after the school fired third-year head coach Scottie Montgomery.
That left very little time for ECU’s players to process the news of Montgomery’s ouster after going 9-26 in his tenure. That only adds to the challenge facing the Pirates (3-8), who visit an eight-win Atlantic Coast Conference team in a game added to the schedule for both schools to replace games canceled due to Hurricane Florence in September.
“Emotions are powerful things sometimes and it can go both ways,” Blackwell said in an interview with The Associated Press. “It can be an ultimate distraction here 48 hours before a game. We’re a little bit in uncharted waters with the fact that I can’t remember off the top of my head another case of this happening 48 hours before a game.”
Blackwell, a former Pirates player and defensive coordinator, said Montgomery met privately with the team Thursday afternoon. Then it was Blackwell’s turn, saying his focus was “understanding the emotions, the pain that people feel.”
“For us as a coaching staff, our job right now is to try to reassure them as best we can,” he said, “then try to refocus them as best we can for this Saturday.”
The Pirates, who went 1-7 in the American Athletic Conference, were supposed to visit Virginia Tech on Sept. 15 though they canceled the trip due to travel concerns as Florence bore down on the Carolinas and Virginia. As for the Wolfpack (8-3), Dave Doeren’s squad was scheduled to host a ranked West Virginia team in the marquee game on the nonconference schedule.
The two schools got together and announced Oct. 2 that they would meet Saturday in Raleigh provided it didn’t conflict with a league championship game for either side.
The last time the teams met, East Carolina beat N.C. State 33-30 in Greenville in September 2016.
“It’s already come up about the last time we played them,” Doeren said, adding: “The fact that we didn’t play well there resonates with our guys. That’s not how we’ll win the game. It’s just a conversation. We need to not beat ourselves.”
Here are some other things to know about Saturday’s ECU-N.C. State game:
N.C. State has several draft-eligible upperclassmen who not only could be playing their final home game, but their final game with the Wolfpack overall if they continue a recent trend of prospects skipping bowl games to prepare for the draft.
“That’ll be a conversation that we’ll have,” Doeren said about players possibly sitting out a bowl game, “and we’re not there yet.”
East Carolina has won seven of nine matchups against ACC schools since September 2013, including a 41-19 home win against UNC in Week 2.
N.C. State running back Reggie Gallaspy Jr. has run for 16 touchdowns this season, matching the second-highest total in program history. Gallaspy can tie the 16-year-old single-season program record if he scores twice against the Pirates, who have surrendered 18 rushing scores this year to rank near the middle of the 129-team Bowl Subdivision ranks.
Doeren’s program has won 17 games in the past two seasons and has a chance at only the second 10-win season in program history by winning this one and a bowl game.
This will be the third straight game for the Wolfpack against a team that either just made, or was about to make, a head coaching change.
N.C. State won 52-10 at Louisville on Nov. 17 in the Cardinals’ first game since the firing of Bobby Petrino. Then the Wolfpack won in overtime at UNC last weekend, leading to the ouster of Tar Heels coach Larry Fedora the following day. And now comes East Carolina.