Jason Nichols returns to ECU as running backs coach
Published 1:16 pm Tuesday, February 21, 2017
GREENVILLE — Jason Nichols, a former record-setting receiver for the Pirates who followed his playing career with over 16 seasons of full-time collegiate coaching experience, has been named running backs coach at East Carolina according to announcement from head coach Scottie Montgomery on Tuesday.
His acceptance of the ECU position ends a one-year stay on the Western Carolina staff where he directed the Catamounts’ running backs, including tailback Detrez Newsome who led the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) with a school-record 2,343 all-purpose yards.
Before helping Newsome to a 1,031-yard, 10 touchdown rushing campaign and selection to three All-America squads in 2016, Nichols spent six seasons as an assistant coach at Louisiana-Monroe.
“Not only does Jason bring a wealth of coaching experience to East Carolina, he knows first-hand of the special bond that exists between Pirate Nation and our program,” Montgomery said. “To have the opportunity to impact young men on the same campus and playing field where he earned his degree and competed is immeasurable. From a recruiting standpoint, I’m not sure if there’s anyone else who could tell a more compelling story of what it means to be a Pirate.”
From 2010 to 2015, Nichols coached ULM wide receivers and served as passing game coordinator during his final year with the Sun Belt Conference member. His receiving corps flourished as five players garnered All-Sun Belt accolades during his six-year stay. The Warhawks’ pass catchers consistently ranked among SBC leaders, and in 2014, ULM was one of just six teams nationally to feature two receivers with 70-plus receptions.
Nichols also played an integral role on specials teams by coordinating a kickoff return unit that ranked among the FBS’s Top 10 and featured All-America performer Luther Ambrose in 2011. Ambrose also led the Sun Belt in receptions per game and was second in touchdown catches in league play.
Additionally, Nichols was recognized as the best recruiter at the mid-major level by Rivals.com in 2013.
Prior to his move to ULM, Nichols was a part of two Mid-American Conference coaching staffs in Ohio. He was on the Kent State sideline from 2005 to 2008 before joining the Toledo staff in 2009. While with the Golden Flashes, Nichols helped orchestrate one of the biggest turnarounds in college football in 2006, guiding a one-win 2005 squad to a six-victory season a year later. He also mentored Najah Pruden, who finished as KSU’s second-leading receiver in program history after amassing 2,131 yards and 15 touchdowns.
Nichols left his mark on the Toledo program in just one season, assisting a pair of Rockets eclipse the 1,000-yard receiving mark and earn All-MAC honors in 2009. Eric Page topped all freshmen in the NCAA with 82 receptions for 1,159 yards and seven touchdowns, while senior Stephen Williams had 79 catches for 1,065 yards and five TDs. Williams finished his career as Toledo’s career leader in receptions and receiving yards before signing a free agent contract with the NFL’s Arizona Cardinals.
As receivers coach at Appalachian State for three seasons (2002-2004), Nichols tutored one of the top pass-catching units in Mountaineer history that included Walter Payton Award finalist Davon Fowlkes. In addition to leading FCS, Fowlkes set school and Southern Conference standards for receptions, receiving yards and all-purpose yards in 2004. A year earlier, he coached a pair of 1,000-yard receivers, and in 2002, his squad combined for over 190 catches in ASU’s spread scheme.
Nichols’ first full-time coaching position was at Sacred Heart (Conn.), where he coached Football Gazette’s I-AA Mid-Major Receiver of the Year and I-AA Mid-Major All-America honoree Deveron Johnson. Johnson became the first player drafted out of the Northeast Conference (NEC) after he was taken by the Dallas Cowboys in the sixth round of the 2002 draft. Nichols also helped the Pioneers to a NEC title, an ECAC Bowl win and Mid-Major National Championship after an 11-0 mark in 2001.
During the course of his career, Nichols was selected to participate in two prestigious NFL Summer Internships. He worked with the Pittsburgh Steelers’ offensive staff in 2004 and the Jacksonville Jaguars’ wide receivers and special teams in 2010.
Nichols started 44 of 46 contests at flanker during his four-year playing career at East Carolina from 1994 to 1997, helping coach Steve Logan and the Pirates to back-to-back St. Jude Liberty Bowl appearances.
Although he held ECU’s career receptions record for 13 years, he currently ranks fourth on the list with 152, while also recording 1,557 receiving yards and nine touchdowns. As a senior in 1997, Nichols made 44 grabs for 346 yards, which followed a personal single-season best 502 yards in 1995. He also served as the program’s top punt return specialist as a freshman, sophomore and junior, racking up a combined 270 yards on 43 returns.
After earning his bachelor’s degree in business education from East Carolina in 1998, Nichols signed as a free agent with the Canadian Football League’s Hamilton Tiger-Cats and later played for the Carolina Cobras in the Arena Football League in 2000 before initiating his coaching career as a graduate assistant at ECU in the spring of 2001.
Nichols, 42, is married to the former Nikki Howard and the couple has two children — Jayden and Amaya.