After a wild week in the JMU football program, filled with rumors, speculation and defeat, it has all reached a conclusion, as former JMU head coach Mike Houston accepted a job offer for the same position with the East Carolina Pirates on Sunday.
"The past three years for Amanda and I and our boys have been nothing short of amazing as far as our experience in Harrisonburg, Virginia and being part of James Madison University," Houston said in a statement with JMU Athletics. "I could not be more grateful for the opportunity to be part of what I believe is a perfect college environment found at JMU. I will forever be indebted to Jeff Bourne, Vice President Charlie King and President Jonathan Alger for believing in me and handing me the reins to coach the James Madison University football program."
News broke Wednesday afternoon that Houston had been in contact with the Charlotte 49ers for their head-coaching vacancy, to which Houston told media that evening he was “offered a job” and was “interested.” These rumors, in turn, preempted East Carolina to fire its former head coach, Scottie Montgomery, on Thursday — with one game remaining in the Pirates’ schedule.
Houston, who leaves James Madison with a record of 37-6 and the 2016 FCS National Championship, reportedly called Charlotte Athletics on Thursday evening, telling Director of Athletics Mike Hill that he had “interest in exploring other head coaching opportunities.” The 49ers responded by withdrawing their offer to the North Carolina native in a public statement the following afternoon.
With Charlotte off the table and the Dukes’ season coming to an abrupt end — falling 23-20 in the second round of the FCS playoffs to the Colgate Raiders — ECU Athletics wasted no time and flew to Harrisonburg early Sunday morning to meet with its new head coach. Houston, who leaves just one year into the 10-year contract extension he signed last offseason, has a contract buyout of $750,000 for leaving to the AAC.
This hire comes as a breath of fresh air for East Carolina Athletics, who reportedly brought on Jon Gilbert, the former athletic director at Southern Miss, for the same position Sunday. Gilbert and Houston will come into the program as a tandem, trying to flip the script on a football program that hasn’t enjoyed a winning season since 2014 and is coming off three straight seasons with a 3-9 record.
In his tenure at JMU, Houston brought the Dukes to three-consecutive playoff appearances and two trips to the national championship in 2016 and 2017. His 2018 senior class leaves JMU as the winningest group in program history.
"There’s only one JMU," Houston said. "This is a special place and a place that will be hard to ever replicate in future coaching opportunities. I will always have incredible memories of my time here. To JMU Nation, I want to say thank you for the most loyal and passionate support that any coach could ever ask for. My only regret is not getting back to Frisco, Texas this year. I am confident in and believe in the players in this program and look forward to following along next year as they make another incredible run.”
JMU Athletics will now have to quickly turn around from this clouded week and address several different items — the first being a replacement for Houston, who’ll be the Dukes’ fourth head coach in the last six years. After that comes the approaching early signing period for the high school class of 2019, which begins on Dec. 19. JMU Director of Athletics Jeff Bourne released the following statement Sunday afternoon:
“We are grateful to Mike Houston, his family and his staff for their commitment to JMU over the last three years,” Bourne said. “When we hired Mike, he was the right coach at the right time for our program. He injected energy, he went about his job the right way, he cared about our student-athletes and he won. That said, success at James Madison is not determined by one individual. The foundation for success here remains intact with our returning and prospective student-athletes, our support staff, the athletics and campus infrastructure, the JMU administration, a passionate fan base and donor support. I am confident that we will have a new coach in place shortly who will build upon that foundation and carry us to even greater success.”
Looking ahead to next season, JMU is currently set to return 20 of its 22 starters, along with the awaited return of senior cornerback and 2018 CAA Preseason Defensive Player of the Year Rashad Robinson — who missed the entire 2018 season with a foot injury. The futures of offensive coordinator Donnie Kirkpatrick and defensive coordinator Bob Trott have yet to be announced.
Contact Blake Pace at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more football coverage, follow the sports desk on Twitter @TheBreezeSports.