Pat Dye, a legendary football coach and even better person to those that knew him best, passed away on Monday at the age of 80. While Dye is perhaps best known for his time at Auburn and four Southeastern Conference Championships, he will forever be regarded in eastern North Carolina as one of the most influential coaches to ever pull-on purple and gold.
“There were, of course, a lot of players during that era from ‘74-’79 that played under him and I don’t know of anyone that wasn’t touched by him in some way,” former ECU quarterback Jimmy Southerland told Patrick Johnson on 94.3 The Game on Tuesday. “All of it positive, I’ve never heard anybody say anything but positive things. He certainly made an impact on my life and, of course, the loss of him yesterday (Monday) throws a void in that. So we’re really sad for his family and we were a part of his family as well.”
In his stint as Pirates head coach in the mid- to late-70s, Dye quickly earned a reputation for being a tough-minded coach who wanted nothing but the best from his players day in and day out.
Making the transition from linebacker coach at Alabama under Bear Bryant to his first head coaching job with the Pirates, Dye brought with him a certain expectation of success.
“When coach Dye came in, I mean he had high expectations,” Southerland said. “With him, he was the type of person coming from Alabama under Bear Bryant, we knew he was special. My freshman year in 1974, when he walked in the room and there’s about 75 of us, you could hear a pin drop. We knew this guy was somebody extremely special and we knew he was somebody that was going to go on to great things.”
A 7-4 team in 1974, the Pirates never fell below that seven-win mark under Dye’s direction. In just his third year on the job, Dye’s Pirates won the Southern Conference Championship behind a strong nine-win campaign.
ECU would go on to win the Independence Bowl against Louisiana Tech in 1978 as a Division 1-A team after an 8-3 season.
“Coach Dye, when he rolled in the door in ‘74 and started things in a motion, he was like a train and we were all very blessed and fortunate to be on it, all the guys that I played with,” Southerland said. “Very special time and coach Dye was a very special man and very, very happy and proud to be a part of that.”
That train saw the Pirates compile a 48-18-1 record under Dye in six years, giving him the highest winning percentage of any ECU head football coach to helm at least 20 games, and the fourth-most wins in program history.
Two of those victories came against ACC competition in back-to-back weeks in 1977, wins that, according to Southerland, perfectly showcased a Dye-led team.
“When we beat them (NC State), we had seven walk-ons that were the captains of that game…I was fortunate enough to score the go-ahead touchdown with about five minutes left,” Southerland said. “Then the next week when we beat Duke, I was fortunate enough to score the 23-yard touchdown that gave us the lead in that.
“Both games though, our defense had to step-up and stop them on the one-yard line in consecutive weeks. That’s how tough and physical our defense was. They made the stop on the one-yard line against State and Duke in back-to-back weeks for us to pull out the wins. It just was the attitude that we were coached by that made us that tough and that belief in ourselves.”
One of the best motivators in college football during his time, and perhaps ever, Dye had a knack for getting his football teams ready to play on a given week, according to Southerland.
“Every game, and this is four years that I listened to these talks before the game…and he’d be talking and it would be the same thing said, but he would change the order of it,” Southerland said. “It was always being courteous to the officials, it was always show class in everything you do…He said so many neat things — I don’t know if it was from Bear Bryant or I don’t know if coach Dye came up with those sayings. It didn’t matter because by the time he got us leaving that breakfast area, every one of us were ready to play right then.”
A big recruiter of the Greenville and surrounding areas during his time with the Pirates, Dye often would piece together teams full of players that might have been overlooked by other programs in the state. At ECU, he taught those players to play with a chip on their shoulder and with a certain confidence that allowed them to be largely successful against in-state rivals in the 1970s.
Dye moved on to take the head coaching position at Wyoming after the 1979 season and ended up winning 99 games at Auburn in a career that spanned more than a decade.
He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2005 and the ECU Hall of Fame a year later in 2006.
“Coach Dye is going to tell you what he thinks, he’s going to be honest, there’s not going to be any lip service,” Southerland said. “He’s going to be up-front and honest and tell you what he thinks and how he feels. I respected that. The fact that he hung in there with me, for example, and so many other guys that were maybe on the edge of whether or not they were even going to play, but having faith that we’re going to get better.”
For those that played under him and those that have played at ECU since, Dye is often credited with establishing the Pirates as a program to be reckoned with in the state of North Carolina. Dye oversaw the Pirates’ transition from an independent to a Division 1-A school in the late-1970s and he helped lay the groundwork for the great rivalries that exist between ECU and in-state ACC competition.
“To me, he set the tone for the Pirates of the future with the chip on the shoulder, with a swagger, with us kind of being the renegades and we loved it,” Southerland said. “We loved having that attitude about us — the ACC especially. We had a good time beating up on those guys. It was very special. He called us skinny-legged boys and all that kind of stuff. We got that reputation and we ran with it and we loved it and we had a lot of success.”
Listen to Jimmy Southerland’s full interview with Patrick Johnson on 94.3 The Game that first aired on Tuesday below: