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.
Jack Snypes says
When does our board of trustees shoulder some of the responsibility for what has transpired? They approved the contract extension for JC as well as being complicit in Ruff’s firing. They have done a poor job when it comes to athletics.
Van Braxton says
I agree with Jack. The trustees should pay the cost of Compher’s buy out. What a ridiculous decision to extend his contract. I have been a long time Pirate club member. I am always asked to give more. I am never asked my opinion or rarely ever given a “Thank you”.
I agree with Jack and Van. It looks like a lot of collusion.
The Kidd says
I believe at the very least those of us that are giving hard earned money to ECU athletics deserve an explanation of how in the world you extend a five year contract to a guy with 1 year on his contract and then 6 months later fire him when we could have done nothing and saved, what, nearly a million dollars? On ECU’s already shoestring budget? I want an explanation.
So I feel like i am missing some information. I understand that Compher fired Ruff and made the move to Montgomery – and those results have not been positive. As an alum – I wanted our team to get better, and they were NOT getting better the last 2 years of Ruff. Agree or disagree w/ that move – Compher did it in order to make our team better, it backfired – and now he is being treated like a villain. What else am I missing that is/was so terrible?
The Kidd says
I don’t get it either, Blink. Now, we can hope for a losing season this fall to oust Mo (which I think some folks actually want), or have a killer season, undefeated, in which case this move will certainly make us look like idiots, or a mediocre season but we win a lower tier bowl, we are getting better. Is the new AD going to have so much pressure on him that he fires him? Looks like a rock and a hard place to me.
Blink you’re missing quite a lot aren’t you? We were 8-5 the year before Ruff got fired. In 2015 he won 5 games, nearly 6 to make us bowl eligible, without a D1 QB. Further to the unnecessary fact of his firing, Compher handled the whole affair with no class, telling the media before Ruff had a chance to tell his coaches or his kids. Mo has only won one more game in two years than Ruff did in his worst season with us. In that time two starting QBs have left the program. Not a good look.
What else are you missing? How about a refusal to interact with fans, a lack of understand for the whole Pirate culture, a $3M budget excess turned into a $3M deficit, while adding another sport and taking a pay raise. Selling 14000 season tickets last year, and on course for even fewer this year, refusing to fire Jeff Lebo…i could go on.
The Kidd, no one is hoping for a losing season. I hope we go 15-0 and have a season i tell my grandkids about, but it’s not hard to believe that Mo is not the coach to make that happen and that a new AD is going to want to bring his own coach in. I actually think we’ve got a good chance of going 6-6 this year, but making a bowl game should be the minimum we expect at ECU.
The Kidd says
If we go 6-6 with a bowl trip what would you do with Mo?
Mike Wilson says
Nothing because it’s not going to happen. If we lose the 1st game then he should be fire the next day
The issue is pretty simple. It not about making him a villain. It simply about accountability. He held Ruff to a higher standard that what Ruff was producing regardless of whether the circumstances made it hard for Ruff.The athletic department has taken a step backward from a performance standpoint, from a revenue standpoint (BIG step back) and from a fan interest standpoint. All of this was happening while he was negotiating for a contract extension and a raise.
Mike Wilson says
Honestly, ECU never got the credit or respect that we deserve from the beginning of time. As a former player/ alumni the past couple of years really set ECU back big time. We allow outsiders to come into our house to destroyed what hard workers built. I never and will never understand of firing coach Ruffin after 5-7 record. Granted he was working with the 3rd string QB. Ok we fired Ruff, but we replaced him with Coach Mo. No head coach experience, blames everyone on loses but himself, players don’t like him or want to play for him. Lets open our eyes everyone….. ECU is a joke now… The best thing is AD gone and HC is next….
HEre is where you are wrong and everyone is wrong – your comments that the team wasn’t getting better under Ruff “the last 2 years” – that is a lie. Ruffs 2014 team went 8-5 and was 2 plays away from winning the AAC in our first year, and we blew out P5 rivals. 2015 was an outlier year for Ruff – losing Carden, Hardy, Lincoln, and Benkert blowing his knee 1 week before season opener —and he still won 5 games and was a last second FG from going bowling. Now if you say 2015 we trended down, that is correct, but it was under extreme circumstances in a rebuilding year…. You idiots that cheered Compher on to fire Ruff, are just as guilty as he is…. Now you all get to really see what poor coaching is…. fools!
Mike Wilson says
John M. Floyd says
Natalie Mariah says
If those are your questions Blink, yes you are missing something! You are missing EVERYTHING and clearly are not up to speed on any of this. The ousted AD and bonehead Chancellor are the ones who gave statements that were tone deaf and shrouded in ambiguity. Pirate fans have been CLEAR on what the issues were. So, either you haven’t been following any of this to which I say again, bring yourself up to speed OR you’re well aware of all of it and was one of the people who championed Compher’s decision to fire Ruffin and could come on any message board to boast your reasons for agreeing with that decision. But,now that he has tanked an entire program and is out the door, you want the ones who knew he was a mistake from the start to clarify something?
The Kidd says
Jeez, Natalie……mellow out on the guy. We are all on the same team here, ya know. I don’t think anyone on this board knows the whole story….including YOU!
The AD is bad. The Chancellor is terrible. Saying that parents should send the children to a campus is is afraid to live next to is insanely stupid. The Chancellor is paid to work with local authorities to fix such situations not run away. The BOT and BOG also need to do their jobs. Future ECU leadership needs to have ties to ECU or the Greenville area. No more going back an agreements with Greenville. Greenville and ECU are in the same boat. They survive or perish together.
John M. Floyd says
I would say it’s a reminder that if you do a bad job at anything you get fired.
I believe Mr. Al Myatt is the best person to write a book on the firing of Coach Ruffin McNeil.
The Kidd says
This entire scenario came about due to one thing. The ECU athletic budget is $17,000,000 PER YEAR less than the AVERAGE of the other AAC teams. That is $17M, every year, on average, compared to the conference teams that we are currently up against. We simply have to get more people in the Pirate Club if we want to compete at this level.
Don Tyson says
Yep Kidd,you have finally nailed it. If you want to play you must pay. We all want to be a big time program but we want someone else to pay for it. It takes mega bucks.