When he talked to East Carolina about becoming football coach in 1974, Pat Dye admitted to his new employers he wasn't sure he could be a head coach.
"But I told them if they had the guts to hire me, I had the guts to come find out," Dye said in 2006. "I was still trying to figure that out when we were 2-3 my second year there."
By the end of his second season, there was no doubt. In the next to last game of the season, he led the Pirates to the sports moment judged the greatest in school history — a 61-10 victory against Virginia on Nov. 8, 1975.
It established what the former assistant to Bear Bryant at Alabama had been telling his players.
“He motivated us by reminding us constantly of the fact that we were all rejects from somewhere else,” running back Terry Gallaher recalled in 2003. “That we were the type of team that goes 9-2 and gets nothing for it.
"But he also reminded us that we could play with anybody."
The Pirates beat North Carolina 38-10 earlier that season, but that didn't stop Virginia coach Sonny Randle from making a boast he would regret. Comparing Virginia's football team to East Carolina, Randle said "was like comparing apples and oranges."
Dye also recalled that when the coaches were talking before the game, "Sonny called me back over and said, 'Pat, if we run the score up, don't take it personally.' I just said, 'Sure, I understand.' I didn't know what would happen."
Dye was concerned the Pirates would not be motivated to play against Randle, a former NFL receiver who played at Virginia. He was also ECU's former coach, leaving ECU for "better pastures" and for his alma mater in 1974. That created the vacancy Dye filled.
"All of 'em thought I was crazy when I got there," Dye said of his new team, "and we worked 'em so hard they probably weren't sure who had been head coach."
It turned out Virginia wasn't particularly motivated to play for Randle. Or so the former coach said in 2006. The Cavaliers were in the midst of a nine-game losing streak in a 1-10 season that ended Randle's tenure in his second season.
"We didn't play even a little bit and East Carolina just absolutely annihilated us. But, I'm convinced that our players — or, some of them — were trying to send a statement of 'We don't care for you and we're going to show you out here this afternoon and let your old team just kill us.'
The Pirates did, rushing for 642 yards. In the days of 42-man traveling teams, Dye didn't have anyone to put in the game who couldn't play.
"It got out of hand," he said. "I can remember telling the officials in the fourth quarter to let the clock run because I can't stop these guys over here. We were playing our last quarterback, our last running back and our last fullback. I told the officials, 'Please don't stop the clock.'"
Late in the fourth quarter, ECU fans — including Chancellor Leo Warren Jenkins — threw apples on the field and chanted "We can handle Sonny Randle!"
The rout of the Cavaliers was part of a 12-game ECU winning streak. The Pirates went on to a 48-18-1 record in Dye's six seasons, including victories against ACC teams Duke, North Carolina, N.C. State and a victory in the 1978 Independence Bowl.
Randle, who led ECU to consecutive 9-2 seasons before leaving for Virginia, went 5-17 in his two years with the Cavaliers. He return to coaching in 1979 and went into broadcasting after the Herd went 12–42–1 in his five seasons.
Dye left for Wyoming in 1980 and went to Auburn in 1981. He led the Tigers to four SEC championships (1983, 1987–1989) and won Coach of the Year honors three times. He coached 1985 Heisman Trophy winner Bo Jackson and was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2005.
Dye is also in ECU's Hall of Fame.
"I need East Carolina in my personal hall of fame more than they need me in theirs," he said. "East Carolina is where I grew up as a coach. They gave me that opportunity."
• East Carolina Hall of Fame
Above: East Carolina players celebrate their 61-10 victory against Virginia in 1975. (Courtesy East Carolina University Archives)
Middle: Pat Dye on the sidelines for East Carolina. (Courtesy East Carolina University Archives)
THIS WEEK’S GREATEST MOMENTS
• Monday: Drexel and Duquesne
• Tuesday: East Carolina and East Tennessee State
• Wednesday: Eastern Illinois and Eastern Kentucky
• Thursday: Eastern Michigan and Elon
• Friday: Ferris State and Florida Atlantic