CAROLINA & CONFERENCE USA
View from the East
Thursday, August 30, 2012
By Al Myatt
A series with forgotten significance
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College football is
changing. This will be the last season for Conference USA in its
present configuration. The end is also in sight for the Bowl
C-USA will lose Central
Florida, Houston, Memphis and Southern Methodist to the Big East
Conference after the current school year. The league will add Charlotte,
Florida International, Louisiana Tech, North Texas, Old Dominion and
The BCS is apparently
giving way to a four-team playoff that will be in place from 2014 to
East Carolina opens this
era-closing season in C-USA against Appalachian State, an opponent which
certainly provides the Pirates with some historical perspective.
The two programs at
opposite ends of the state have competed within a conference framework
and possibly could do so again.
The institutions first met
in football in 1932 as Appalachian State Teachers College and East
Carolina Teachers College. ECTC absorbed a 21-0 loss in Boone to finish
its maiden season 0-5.
Appalachian won the first
10 meetings in the series, which it still leads, 19-11. East Carolina's
first win didn't come until 1952, 20 years after the initial clash.
When both programs were in
the Southern Conference, their matchups often had championship
implications. Before winning C-USA in 2008 and 2009, the Pirates' last
conference title was the Southern crown in 1976.
That championship was
sealed in a late November showdown with Appalachian State in Greenville,
which ECU won convincingly, 35-7.
ECU made a
university-defining decision to become a major college independent in
football after the 1976 season.
The Pirates and the
Mountaineers kept the series going for several years in the late 1970s
when ECU had a determined strong safety out of Lumberton named Ruffin
McNeill. The Pirates beat ASU every year Ruff was in the program from
1976 to 1979.
While the Pirates
refocused on stepping up to the big time, ASU became the dominant force
in ECU's old league. The Mountaineers have won or shared 10 Southern
Conference championships going back to 1986. ASU won three straight
national titles (Division I-AA and later Football Championship
Subdivision) from 2005 to 2007.
"They have a lot of
tradition, pride and passion about their program," McNeill said this
Ruff knows that first
hand. McNeill became a part of ASU's success as linebackers coach from
1989 to 1991 and as defensive coordinator from 1993 to 1996.
"I'll always be indebted
to Ruffin," said Appalachian State coach Jerry Moore, who will start his
24th season with the Mountaineers at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium. "Ruffin made
a huge difference in our football program. ... Each time he left, I was
disappointed. I've got great respect for him as a man and, obviously, as
McNeill left Boone to
return to his alma mater as defensive line coach in 1992 on Steve
Logan's first staff.
Moore and McNeill have the
dual distinction of having coached at Texas Tech. Moore was head coach
of the Red Raiders from 1981 to 1985, going 16-37-2. He has found his
niche at Appalachian, compiling a mark of 207-83. McNeill won his only
game as head coach at Texas Tech when he filled in for Mike Leach in the
Alamo Bowl at the conclusion of the 2009 season.
"I learned a lot under
Coach (Moore)," McNeill said. "Especially, how to handle situations, how
to stay calm and poised when things may be going in a little bit of
disarray. We were very successful at staying the course."
McNeill helped the
Mountaineers to a Southern Conference title in 1991.
"Coach (Moore) was one of
the first coaches I worked for who was not a micro-manager," McNeill
said. "He let you coach. He let you become a coach without having
parameters around you. He let you experiment individually and with
groups. I appreciate that about Coach. Coach meant a lot to Erlene
(wife) and my family. Olivia, my youngest, was born in Boone. Coach
Moore was right there the first day she was born."
Olivia McNeill is student
teaching at present and is scheduled to graduate from Appalachian State
ECU associate head coach
John Wiley was on the Mountaineers staff in 1989-1990 and from 1993 to
2009 when he left to join McNeill's staff in Greenville. ECU recruiting
coordinator and receivers coach Donnie Kirkpatrick was at Appalachian
State from 1985 to 1988, helping the program to its first SoCon title in
line coach Dwayne Ledford played at ECU from 1995-98, making a
successful transition from the defensive front to the offensive line
before spending seven seasons in the NFL. Ledford was a graduate
assistant at ECU during the C-USA championship seasons of 2008 and 2009.
Wiley and Ledford will be
on different sidelines than in 2009 when ECU went out to a 24-0 lead and
held on to top Appalachian State 29-24 in the
season opener in Greenville.
The 2009 game marked the
first time the Pirates had played ASU since McNeill's senior year in
1979. ECU athletic director Terry Holland got the Mountaineers on the
schedule in 2009 so that a home game with N.C. State could be moved to
the following season when the enclosure of the East end of the stadium
would be complete. That postponed clash with the Wolfpack ended with
Damon Magazu's overtime interception in front of the new seating
to preserve a 33-27 Pirates win.
Holland thought the
impromptu revision that brought ASU back on the schedule turned out well
and that led to the matchup on Saturday.
"The revival of the East
Carolina-Appalachian State football rivalry has already produced one
exciting game," Holland said. "I know both institutions are looking
forward to this second chapter with great anticipation."
It's not a secret that
both Holland and McNeill are on record as favoring consideration of the
Mountaineers for membership in C-USA — and that Appalachian State is
looking to move up to the Football Bowl Subdivision.
The once meaningful
rivalry that was dormant for 30 years despite its personnel connections
could re-emerge as a crucial contest in a conference championship.
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