Jeff Compher wanted to succeed as athletic director at East Carolina, if for no other reason than to be attractive to a Power Five school.
One big, bad decision mushroomed on him and sent the Pirates into a downward overall spiral that produced no postseason teams last school year.
His leadership lost money, lost games and lost the enthusiasm of the fan base.
Compher has negotiated a buyout of his contract, which was extended five years in 2017 by the board of trustees — with a raise.
The outgoing AD accepted a boost in salary with his extension, after he had cut budgets across the board in the athletic department as a means of reducing shortfalls.,
But that wasn’t his biggest mistake.
And, technically, firing alumnus Ruffin McNeill wasn’t the ultimate factor. The bottom line in a coaching change is to elevate performance and that hasn’t happened.
McNeill’s fate was razor thin.
In a 5-7 season in 2015 that preceded his dismissal, Ruff’s last game at his alma mater came down to a 42-yard field goal as time expired in a 19-16 loss to Cincinnati. Win that game, the Pirates are bowl eligible and there is no basis for a coaching change.
Bearcats kicker Andrew Gantz essentially changed the course of ECU history.
While big names like Gene Chizik and Brady Hoke surfaced as Compher searched for Ruff’s successor, he wound up with Duke’s offensive coordinator.
Seems as though Compher checked his funding and found out what he could afford as Scottie Montgomery was winning his first recruiting battle at ECU by influencing the AD.
As the Pirates have stumbled to consecutive 3-9 season since the coaching change, the dissatisfaction with Compher and his most major hire has intensified.
Upon closer examination, it turns out that Compher was 180 degrees from being an East Carolina guy earlier in his career.
“He’s a fake Pirate, just like fake news,” a Pirate Club rep said this week.
At ECU’s greatest moment in athletics, a 37-34 Peach Bowl win over N.C. State to complete an 11-1 season in 1991, an accomplishment that multitudes of ECU fans still cherish, Compher was an employee of the Wolfpack.
A wolf in sheep’s clothing …
He went on to build his resume at Western Carolina, Vanderbilt, Washington and Northern Illinois and probably saw ECU as another stepping stone when he came to Greenville in 2013. But his attempts to land a Power Five post and leave the Pirates in the rear view all failed.
The list of grievances goes on but ECU has made a step toward recovery by negotiating his resignation.
But where do the Pirates go from here?
This could be just the start of a housecleaning that has the potential to restore the university’s identity. ECU has had all it can handle in terms of attacks on its tradition and vision from what amounts to a hostile takeover.
The chancellor, Dr. Cecil Staton?
Compared to a mover and shaker like Dr. Leo Jenkins, Staton is virtually invisible. If you want a leader who blends in with the wallpaper, he might be your guy, but he has so little presence, who really knows?
Compher and Staton have both sought to suppress their detractors rather than offer viable explanations and transparency, which should be the standard — especially in a collegiate setting.
And what about Montgomery?
His leash probably gets a lot shorter with Compher’s exit.
A new athletic director is going to want to see results fast and the fan base is going to demand it. New ADs also have a penchant for putting their own hires in place.
Montgomery continued working with the Blue Devils after being named, which probably saved ECU a month of salary, a significant plus in what has become a struggling economy for the Pirates.
Montgomery’s 6-18 record is the key factor in his susceptibility. Montgomery has sought to change the Pirate culture, but what works at Duke may not have the same degree of success at ECU.
Continued recruiting efforts and a coaching staff makeover, primarily on the defensive side, may improve results but it needs to happen quickly.
In a sense it’s hard to fault Montgomery. He didn’t fire Ruff. He was just a coordinator with the confidence that he could succeed as a head coach.
The depth and competitiveness of the American Athletic Conference in football and basketball is not well fathomed. Suffice it to say that Central Florida went undefeated in football last season and beat Auburn in the Peach Bowl. Auburn had beaten Alabama, the playoff champion.
Making strides in the AAC is not an overnight process. Relatively speaking with the rest of the league, ECU is lacking in terms of resources and momentum in the revenue sports.
So how does this situation shake out? Is Compher’s buyout just the start of the dominos?
Will there be an interim AD during a search? Will a new AD be hired before a decision is made on a basketball coach?
If Staton were to be removed, does the process wait on a new chancellor before the AD is hired?
How hot is the seat Montgomery is on?
There are a lot of questions remaining, but one thing is for sure, the termination of Compher is a breath of fresh air for East Carolina.
It’s also a reminder that decisions involving football are greatly magnified at ECU. Compher made one very bad decision regarding football. It has cost him — and ECU.