Doctor or Coach? It ends up as the right prescription

Published 5:01 pm Friday, August 23, 2019

I spent last Saturday in Greenville at East Carolina Football Media Day. In addition to viewing a little bit of the team’s final scrimmage, touring the TowneBank Tower (one of the best stadium expansions I’ve ever seen!), observing ‘Meet the Pirates’ availability of players and coaches, I actually got some work done with interviews.

Funny the things you can learn when people ask the most innocent of questions. Such as that new head coach Mike Houston had ‘options’ on his future when he got out of college.

In his eight years as a head coach from Lenoir-Rhyne, to The Citadel, to James Madison (covering three states: North Carolina, South Carolina, and finally, Virginia), and compiling an 80-25 record during that time, I found it surprising that coaching football was not his first choice after he graduated from Mars Hill University.

During one-on-one interviews, Houston shared the story that he actually was a pre-med student majoring in chemistry and biology, and even applied to medical school at both ECU and UNC-Chapel Hill.

“The dean of the medical school here suggested that I get a job in the Research Triangle Park with one of the pharmaceutical companies,” he related to ‘Bonesville’ Staff Writer Al Myatt. “I could not see myself doing that. The only other thing I had thought about doing: I grew up playing sports. Football, basketball, baseball, track. I was always involved in athletics.”

Houston said he called his college football coach, Tim Clifton, and talked to him about it. Clifton suggested he give it a try and so Houston took a job teaching high school chemistry and physics and coaching football and basketball at Forbush High School in Winston-Salem. From there he went to Sky Roberson High in Asheville, and after a year at Brevard, landed at Lenoir-Rhyne.

“I was just going to do it for a year and reapply to med school, but two-three months in, I loved it and I knew that’s what I wanted to do,” Houston reflected. “I never looked back. Certainly, it’s turned out to be the right path for me, what I was meant to do.

“In kind of a way, I owe East Carolina University for getting me into coaching,” he noted with a smile.

Houston hasn’t said what his prescription is for victory next Saturday when the Pirates make a ‘house-call’ to N.C. State in Raleigh. Nor has he indicated the keys for returning the Victory Barrel to Greenville (that wooden cask emblematic of the victor in this intra-state rivalry) after last season’s 58-3 drubbing by the Wolfpack.

Keep in mind, thanks to the North Carolina General Assembly, this game – and similar cross-state rivalries – have been mandated by the legislature since 1992. That came following the debacle at Carter-Finley Stadium in 1987 when ECU fans ‘allegedly’ tore up the field following a 32-14 win by the Bucs and eventually led to a five-year suspension of the rivalry.

“You just go out there and play,” Houston acknowledged. “The game kicks off and you play the game the way it’s supposed to be played. I think we’re in a different situation now, but I’m sure (the 2018 game) is in the back of our kids’ minds. Every year is a new year and every team is a new team. This team is not the one that they played last December.”

I say, forget about last year. Since the rivalry’s re-instatement, the record for both teams is 5-5; 4-1, NCSU, in games played in Raleigh while ECU is 3-1 in Greenville with one Pirate win in Charlotte (ECU’s largest margin of victory in the series: 52-14).

In the meantime, thanks to school starting last Monday, both teams have had a two-week ‘game-week’ preparation time instead of just one. But maybe all that did was leave both Houston and NC State’s Dave Doeren with more to worry about.

And I don’t think a couple of aspirin and returning back tomorrow are going to cure those headaches.

Gene Motley is a Staff Writer at Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact him at or 252-332-7211.