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(Photo: ECU SID)
GREENVILLE — There is a
lot to like about Ruffin McNeill. Almost too many qualities to list.
From his down-home humor
to those unbreakable East Carolina ties, McNeill connected with Pirates
fans during his official introduction as the new head football coach.
And that’s selling his
first public performance as the captain of the ECU program short.
Before a standing room
only crowd, McNeill told stories. Funny Stories. Like the day when
former Pirates coach Pat Dye essentially sealed a verbal commitment with
McNeill because they shared the same palate for collards.
It certainly won McNeill’s
McNeill presented himself
fatherly, the type of man who commands respect in the locker room and
displays love in the living room. On several occasions he assured any
eavesdropping parents that their sons will be in strong, capable hands
should they sign with ECU.
That means an emphasis on
academics, discipline, and no shortage of bear hugs. Athletics Director
Terry Holland can already attest to the latter.
McNeill even gave his
share of fist pumps, from the second he walked into the Harvey Hall
banquet room to the minute he concluded his press conference. “Ruff”
made it clear that he is a lifelong Pirate and that ECU — not Alabama,
Florida, or Texas — was his ultimate destination job.
“That was certainly part
of it,” Holland said. “We’re settling this thing for the long term, and
knowing that he’s not going to leave here.
“As long as things are
going well, he’s going to stay right here with us. If we can win 12
games a year, he’s still going to be here.”
If first impressions are
an indication of what East Carolina fans can expect from their new
football coach, my guess is entertainment is in their future. At the
Both in Dowdy-Ficklen
Stadium and along the rubber chicken circuit, there is reason to believe
McNeill will be a hit.
A big one.
Because success has
followed McNeill everywhere he has gone. From Lumberton to Greenville
and eventually to Lubbock, he has always been associated with winners.
So why should this be any
“It’s amazing, but not
surprising of what can be accomplished here at East Carolina
University,” McNeill said. “This is a special place.
“It is a destination job
for me. I see the buildings. I see the construction going on. I know
what kind of fans we have. I’ve had a chance to make a few plays in
front of our fans. I’ve had a chance from afar to watch our fans and our
football team. The loyalty and the enthusiasm that we have here in
Pirate Nation is no secret to anyone.”
Just like McNeill made it
no secret that ECU will implement the offensive system with which he
grew comfortable during his ten seasons at Texas Tech. That’s why he’s
bringing offensive prodigy Lincoln Riley along to run the show, and why
many of the elements that left opposing secondaries gasping for breath
will be installed.
It’s a system that should
draw the attention of skilled high school passers and quick, sure-handed
receivers. But it’s not one, he says, in which defense will be
sacrificed simply because the offense can score.
During both the interview
and in the press conference, McNeill said all the right things. He
almost said them too well. And it’s hardly uncommon for a head coach to
sizzle in the press conference and then regularly fizzle on game day.
But something tells me
that won’t happen with McNeill.
Maybe it’s because he was
a decade-long fixture at a Texas Tech program with a proven blueprint
for success. Or maybe it’s because in the wake of a crisis — the type
during which the distractions seemed too many to overcome — he held the
Red Raiders together at the Alamo Bowl when they had every reason to
Perhaps it has something
to do with his demeanor, the type that should make him successful on the
recruiting trail and in the locker room. Based on what we heard
yesterday — along with numerous accounts from his former players —
parents, players, and high school coaches in North Carolina will be
drawn to him.
Maybe it’s just the
conviction and passion that clothed his rhetoric, which seemingly was
absent of that same ole, same ole coach-speak.
Ruff hasn’t coached a down
yet at East Carolina, let alone an entire game. He hasn’t so much as
hired a staff, signed a recruiting class, or run a practice.
But on his first full day
on the job, McNeill made many believers in his ability to lead the
flagship sport at his alma mater. Count me among them.