Gilbert takes athletics helm, Houston to lead football

New ECU football coach Mike Houston put his own affirmation on the Pirate gridiron mantra at his introductory news conference Dec. 4.

“I promise you, there will be no quarter, ever, for ECU football,” Houston said as he concluded his address.

Opposing teams on the Pirates’ schedule next fall should take note. Those words come from a coach who has a national championship, a national Coach of the Year award and a .761 winning percentage.

Houston comes to ECU from James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Va., where he compiled a 37-6 record in three seasons, won two Colonial Athletic Association titles and a Football Championship Subdivision national title in 2016 and was runnerup in 2017.

Houston, 47, grew up in western North Carolina and told the audience at the Murphy Center he knew well the history of ECU football. To him, his wife and two sons, coming to Greenville “felt like we were coming home,” he said.

“This is a place I’m excited to be the head football coach at,” he said.

Hiring Houston was the first duty of new athletic director Jon Gilbert, who took his job the first of December. Gilbert said when he was about to be interviewed for the AD spot, he prepared a list of head coaches to present to Dave Hart, special advisor for athletics to Chancellor Cecil Staton. Houston’s name was atop the list.

“It certainly has moved at warp speed over the last week,” Gilbert said of his own hiring and that of the coach.

Before joining James Madison, Houston served as head coach at The Citadel. He led the Bulldogs to a 14-11 record in two seasons, winning a Southern Conference championship. He also was defensive coordinator then head coach at Lenoir-Rhyne College in Hickory and has recruited football players across the state. He started his coaching career at Forbush High School in East Bend and then went to T.C. Roberson High School in Asheville.

He’s a graduate of Mars Hill College, where he played tight end. “We are eastern North Carolina’s football program,” Houston said of the Pirates. “In time, we will be North Carolina’s football program. We’re excited to be here, and we’re excited about the opportunity to build. What I’m excited about is where we can be in a couple of years.

“We’re going to be a hard-nosed, disciplined, fundamentally sound football team. We’re going to play with tremendous intensity, we’re going to play with passion and we’re going to play with fire. We’re going to compete and go toe-to-toe with anybody we match up against.”

Houston pledged to build a team that will compete yearly for conference championships. He also credited Gilbert and Staton for assuring the university’s commitment to football. “They did not back down from what’s important, and that’s making ECU football relevant again,” Houston said.

Gilbert comes to ECU from the University of Southern Mississippi, where he had been athletic director since January 2017. Before that, he worked in senior athletics administrative positions at the University of Alabama and the University of Tennessee, where he worked with Hart.