By Dave Glenn and staff
ACC Sports Journal
October 28, 2002 GREENVILLE Teams can rotate offensive linemen and nobody seems to notice. Playing multiple running backs can promote a degree of reassurance about depth. But let a team play two quarterbacks, and that dreaded phrase quarterback controversy seems to be an immediate and unavoidable consequence.
East Carolina coach Steve Logan put his backup quarterback, sophomore Desmond Robinson, on the field for a series in each half of three October games to spell sophomore Paul Troth. It's a pattern Logan used previously, when Richard Alston gave David Garrard a break.
Robinson appeared capable in a 59-24 win over Army, as he directed a pair of touchdown drives. Before the game was over, there were those who were saying that Robinson should be playing ahead of Troth. The latter had a touchdown to interception ratio of eight to 11 through six games and was mostly responsible for the Pirates being 115th of 117 teams in Division I-A in turnover margin.
Troth lost a fumble on a blindside hit against South Florida that resulted in a Bulls touchdown. He had an interception, on a pass he was trying to throw away, that led to another Bulls score in the 46-30 ECU loss. Robinson came in for his second-half series after the Troth pick, which put South Florida ahead 36-17 in the third quarter.
Some among the crowd at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium may have thought Robinson was replacing Troth based on the turnover on the previous possession, but Robinson was scheduled for a series anyway. The Pirates moved from their 25 to the South Florida 39 despite the fact that Robinson was having trouble on his pass drops. Three times he tripped over offensive linemen and fell to the turf for losses.
The third time Robinson stumbled, Logan brought Troth back into the game. That change quickly met with a chorus of boos from the home crowd.
The negative response from the fans generated a lot of internet message board dialogue in the aftermath of ECU's fourth non-conference loss of the year. Some took the position that fans shouldn't boo their own players. Some said they weren't booing Troth but rather Logan, for jerking Robinson in mid-series.
After the game, Logan broke down the decision to change quarterbacks in-depth.
Desmond has got to separate from the center quicker, Logan said. He was hesitating under center. He was taking a false step that we've got to continue to coach to get it out of him. That false step was leaving his right foot under center, and the guard in pass protection steps back, and he (Robinson) got stepped on three times.
That happens. It happens in pro football, and it's happened to us from time to time, maybe once in a game. I've never seen it happen three straight times. I took Desmond out to protect Desmond. He was very frustrated. I just took him out and calmed him down. We put Paul back in the game and went about our business.
It wasn't anything to do with anybody being angry or upset or any of those other things. We need Desmond to produce. We need him to be a change-up guy to come in and do the things that he can do for us. That kind of hurt us when it didn't unfold that way, because it unfolded really nicely against Army. He was doing a good job of moving us a little bit there. It helped Paul. It helped us. It helped everybody, but I told somebody privately: If that had been my own son at quarterback, I would have taken him out after the second one.
I was probably remiss in not doing that. My job is to protect the kid from the media and the fans and the things that people can say and do. That was what I was doing, was making sure that things didn't get to where he was looking like something he's not, because what he is is a fine player that can help us win. He's growing in his role, and that's all that was about. It's nothing more or less than that.
Troth, who has sought to maintain his confidence despite his problem with turnovers, took the boos personally and said he felt bad for his family in the stands. Troth's dad, Mike, lettered at flanker at ECU and played on the Sonny Randle team that won the Southern Conference championship in 1973.
After Troth threw his third touchdown pass of the game in the late stages, he is alleged to have given a middle-finger salute to a group of fans in the ECU student section. Logan was made aware of Troth's interaction with fans by a caller on his Sunday night radio show.
I didn't see what happened, but I don't think it's a matter that requires discipline, Logan said. It's part of the education process for Paul. ... Head coaches, quarterbacks and kickers can't respond in those situations.
Both Logan and Troth said the behavior wouldn't be repeated. Troth didn't admit to flipping the bird but said he apologized if he did.
I know I'm the backup quarterback and Paul is the starter, Robinson said. I'm just happy to get a chance to play and contribute.
Troth said he and Robinson room together on road trips and have a good relationship.
We joke around a lot, Troth said.
Meanwhile, the frustrations of a 2-5 start have tended to magnify other situations at ECU.
Logan and athletic director Mike Hamrick have a common desire for the football program to be successful but have their differences on some lesser issues. One example: ECU's step down in hotel accommodations in Greenville for Friday night lodging before home games has not been popular with the Pirates coach.
The team stayed at the Hilton before home games in 2001 but has since returned to the Holiday Inn Express. Logan has scoffed at the amount of money saved, but room rates at the Hilton are $180 per night for two players and meals are over $30 per person. That compares to about $60 per room for two at the Holiday Inn Express and $19 per person for a catered meal. Logan was concerned about noise from a bachelor party at the Holiday Inn Express the night before a 24-20 win over Tulane this season.
The bottom line may be that the team is 9-4 when staying at the Holiday Inn Express over the last four seasons and 2-3 when staying at the Hilton in 2001. Also, Hamrick has a $25,000 annual bonus in his restructured contract if the athletic department budget breaks even or better. That could be a factor as well.