Houston discusses changes and new look Pirates

GREENVILLE, NC (2/20/24) — With the 2024 spring practice session right around the corner, East Carolina University Head Football Coach Mike Houston addressed the Greenville-Pitt County Chamber of Commerce during its February Power Luncheon at the Hilton Greenville. Houston, who is entering his sixth season at the helm of the Pirates’ program and 13th season overall as a collegiate head coach, spoke enthusiastically to the 120-plus in attendance. 

Houston opened his remarks by welcoming his new offensive coordinator, John David Baker, who was in attendance and is one of five new additions to the ECU coaching staff in 2024.  Baker was tabbed as the Pirates’ new offensive coordinator in December 2023, ending a three-year stint at Ole Miss where he served as the co-offensive coordinator and tight-ends coach.

Houston recapped a busy offseason for the Pirates, which included an extensive list of names to consider for the offensive coordinator position.  After several interviews and time spent evaluating candidates, Houston said Baker emerged as the clear-cut favorite to be the next offensive coordinator for the Pirates.

After officially accepting the position, Houston said Baker got to work quickly, traveling across the country to visit with quarterbacks in the transfer portal.  ECU was able to land Katin Houser, a mid-year transfer from Michigan State who enrolled at ECU in January.  Joining Houser from the transfer portal is former Miami and Missouri signal-caller Jake Garcia.  Houser and Garcia, along with sophomore Raheim Jeter, makeup the quarterback competition as the Pirates enter spring practice which begins on March 19.

“It’s a crazy new landscape of college football and the ability to navigate that has changed so much,” Houston said.  “When I went through this last offseason, we were able to be a lot more aggressive than we were last year.  Last year, we really struggled to navigate the transfer portal successfully and attract the level of players that we needed.”

Houston referenced the creation of Team Boneyard, ECU’s NIL collective, and the contributions to Team Boneyard, along with other businesses supporting NIL opportunities for players, as reasons for ECU having the ability to be more competitive in the transfer market.

“We had 13 transfers we signed mid-year, and I don’t know that we would have gotten a single one of the ones we went after if it wasn’t for the ability to have some type of NIL for those players,” Houston said.

In addition to the transfers, Houston made mention of the 19 high school signees set to join the program, some of whom are currently on campus.  The Pirates also landed two junior college signees who are currently with the program.  While the Pirates will continue to be aggressive in the transfer portal, signing the top high school players will remain a priority and Houston said he believes that is how you protect your culture and build a solid foundation.

ECU is preparing to navigate the next round of moves within the transfer portal, which will take place in April – the third and final transfer portal window of the year.

"It is inevitable that there is going to be movement both to and from [the transfer portal] here in April and May," Houston said.

Houston hopes the excitement he has in regard to the changes within the program in 2024 is one that is also shared by the fan base.  Season ticket sales are off to a great start with 3,000 more tickets being sold during the first week this year compared to the last two years. 

“We have, in my opinion, the best home venue in our entire league and one of the best home venues in the country,” said Houston.  “Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium is electric on gameday.  I can’t wait for the home opener this fall against Norfolk State.  I can’t wait to have our fan base in the stadium and for our new Pirates to get to experience what will be a special day.”

Houston also touched on the 2024 schedule, which includes an in-state matchup with Appalachian State in Greenville on September 14.  It will mark the first time the Mountaineers have visited Greenville since 2012.

"I've already told our coaches that game [Appalachian State] will be sold out and it will be one of the most electric atmospheres that we've had at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium," Houston said.

Houston praised the efforts of fourth-year defensive coordinator Blake Harrell, who has built a competitive defensive unit that the fan base has rallied behind.

"Coach Harrell has done a great job since he's gotten here of creating the culture on that side of the football that we want," Houston said.  "It's a mindset of being highly competitive and playing with passion and heart."

When asked about the progression of the offensive line and what to expect from that unit this season, Houston said the biggest positive, compared to this time a season ago, is the experience.  The Pirates have six offensive lineman from the 2023 roster that have significant playing time and multiple starts across the board.  The offensive line will be under the direction of Matt Mattox, who is in his first year as the offensive line coach at ECU.

Fans can get their first look at the 2024 Pirates during the annual ECU Purple-Gold Spring game at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium on Saturday, April 13.


Trent McGee
President & CEO
Greenville-Pitt County Chamber of Commerce
(252) 752-4101 ext. 2225

East Carolina Head Football Coach Mike Houston speaks during the Greenville-Pitt County Chamber of Commerce's Power Luncheon on February 20, 2024.