A room with a view

Published 10:21 am Thursday, September 29, 2011

East Carolina defensive coordinator Brian Mitchell switched from calling plays on the sideline to the press box and so far this season the move has been successful. (WDN Photo/Brian Haines)

GREENVILLE — Leading UAB 28-23 with a little over two minutes left in the game last Saturday, the Pirates’ defense came up with a huge win-preserving stand when they stopped the Blazers from completing a pass in the end zone on fourth-and-8 from the Pirates 18-yard line.
The stop was big because not only did it win the game, but it figures to inject confidence in a unit that was one of the worst in nation only a year ago.
“In reflection, you build upon it because you made a big stop that led directly to that win,” East Carolina associate head coach/linebackers coach John Wiley said. “You always preach that no one play is more important than the next, but to be able to walk off the field with those kids being able to have some confidence that they made a stop to preserve a win (is great). If you don’t make the stop than you blew the game, so it’s as much about just not being the goat as it is anything else.”
On that play defensive coordinator Brian Mitchell called for a timeout from the press box after seeing the formation that UAB came out in. That’s something that might not have happen last season because Mitchell was on the sideline.
Along with switching from a 4-3 to a 3-4 defense over the summer, Pirates head coach Ruffin McNeill and Mitchell also discussed having him call plays from the press box. After experimenting with it in scrimmages, the move to place Wiley on the sideline and Mitchell in the booth was given the green light.
“(McNeill) and I have been together for so long that it he was thinking what I was thinking and I was thinking what he was thinking,” Mitchell said. “I thought about going up about the seventh game (last season) but I didn’t want to disrupt anything. In hindsight, I probably should have. … It’s been a good fit for us this season.”
It’s hard to argue with the results. Heading into Saturday’s matchup with North Carolina, ECU (1-3,1-0 C-USA) is ranked 58th in total defense, which is up 62 spots from last season. While the Pirates have the 98th ranked run defense (up 19 spots from 2010), that statistic is a bit inflated because the team has faced elite running backs in two of the first three games they played in South Carolina’s Marcus Lattimore and Virginia Tech’s David Wilson. Pass defense is where the biggest improvement has come as the team jumped from its 117th ranking in 2010 to placing 17th after its third game this season.
“So far I have been able to get a good feel for what (opposing teams) are doing offensively,” McNeill said. “By the second, third quarter and fourth quarter I’m honed in and have a good feel for what they’re doing in certain situations and whether they have changed their tendencies or not.”
McNeill, who was a defensive coordinator at Texas Tech before coming to ECU, said that the goal was to optimize Mitchell’s chances for success.
“As a player caller, which I have been, I want him to be where he feels comfortable and can see things,” McNeill said. “On the sideline there is not much vision, it’s hard to see the far end of the field. … Each guy has his own preference.”
While the pros to being up top is that you increase your vision, one of the cons is that you are not on the field with your players.
“It’s a personal decision. I think guys want to feel the pulse of the defense and they like to be a little more hands on, on game day,” Mitchell said. “For us, the chemistry that we have on our defense is what I’m working off of.
“Our chemistry gives us a competitive advantage on game day. We have Coach Wiley and Coach (Mark) Yellock on the sideline, plus I still have Coach Ruff on the sideline, he’s a defensive coach. I got three coaches on the sideline that can make adjustments for me and get them motivated and keep them focused.”
In football there can be a slight stigma attached to a coordinator who is not on the field with his players during a game. To that, Mitchell said, “Check your ego at the door. I don’t need TV time or want TV time. I’m out here to win football games. If it bolds well for me to be up in the box then I’m going to be up in the box.”