Pat Dye coached the first and only
East Carolina football win in Chapel Hill on Oct. 25, 1975, a
38-17 Pirates victory.
The outcome was bittersweet to a degree for the ECU fan base
because former coach Clarence Stasavich had passed away the day
before. Stasavich coached the Pirates from 1962 to1969 and was
athletic director from 1963 to 1975. A proponent of the single
wing offense, Stasavich was 50-27-1 at ECU with a 3-0 record in
Dye, who was
48-18-1 with the Pirates, remembers subsequent trips to Kenan
"We lost in '76, 12-10," said
Dye, who went on to coach successfully at Wyoming and Auburn.
"We lost in ('78), 14-10. You notice I said 'We lost.' I didn't
say, 'Got beat.' There is a difference. One of those years, I
don't think they made but two first downs in the second half.
But it was hard for us to win there. We had to be a lot better
than they were, which we were in '75.
"But, let me say this, it's a
great game for East Carolina because (North) Carolina has been
playing football a long time and they were really doing us a
favor by playing us — and I deeply appreciate that."
In Dye's last trip to play the
Tar Heels in 1979, which was before there were overtime
procedures in the college game, UNC-Chapel Hill coach Dick Crum
elected to kick a late field goal for a 24-24 tie, rather than
go for the win. Some of the ECU faithful supposedly sent Crum
neckties for Christmas as a reminder of his conservative
Current ECU coach Ruffin
McNeill made the trip to the Piedmont as a player for Dye.
"The players on the teams at
that time knew each other and the coaches knew each other
through recruiting and the profession," McNeill said. "It was a
very hard hitting football game. It was a game that was not for
the faint of heart. It was very exciting. We always had to go
over there. They never came to Greenville. That's one thing I
remember. They always had really fine athletes. It really was a
knockdown, drag out, hitting-type contest."
McNeill, a defensive back at
ECU, remembers Tar Heels greats such as linebacker Lawrence
Taylor, defensive tackle Donnell Thompson and running back
"Famous" Amos Lawrence among his contemporaries. McNeill
recalled running back Doug Paschal, who was from Greenville, as
another North Carolina standout in that era.
Dye was asked what advice he
might give McNeill as the Pirates set to embark on another trip
to Chapel Hill for a 3:30 p.m. kickoff on Saturday.
"He knows how to get ready to
play them people," Dye said. "You ain't got to give 'em no
famous locker room speeches to get 'em ready to play against
Carolina. All you got to do is get 'em to the game. If you do
any more than that, then you're probably doing too much."
McNeill is on the same page as
his former coach when it comes to the emotional aspect.
"The game itself handles the
emotion part," said the ECU coach. "My focus, and it will be as
long as I'm here, will be on the team itself and what we can
control. That's making sure we are fundamentally sound and gain
confidence in our techniques."
McNeill said a 49-27 loss at
Virginia Tech on Sept. 18, in which the Pirates led into the
second half, has value as a teaching tool.
"Our team will improve once
they trust our coaching, our fundamentals and our techniques,"
McNeill said. "They are doing a great job, the guys are. I
really love our football team. My focus is on making sure we
start with that first.
"Secondly, what things do we
have to improve on to be a really special football team? That's
learning to play for four quarters. We are still in the growth
stages. That's not a cop out or anything like that but we really
Ruff has watched tape of ECU's
31-17 loss at North Carolina last year and it leaves him
longing. Cornerbacks Emanuel Davis and Travis Simmons are the
only returning starters on the defensive unit.
"I see the guys on defense that
(ECU) had and I'd like to have those guys back," he said. "Our
team is still in the developmental stages and learning how to
play for four quarters. ... The game is broken up for me in
starting fast, gaining momentum at halftime, making sure you
come out after halftime and getting a great start, and then
finish in the fourth quarter.
"We emphasize that to 'em but
the only way you can learn it is actually going through the game
and experiencing it. That's the next part of the team
"The third part is to keep
providing competition at positions to develop depth at all
In a sense, it's just another
game for a young football team.
"My focus for this week and
every week is, 'Yeah, the game is important.' We know that. It's
the most important game on our schedule for this reason only —
it's the next game on the schedule and it's the only game we
play this week," McNeill said. "We put as much emphasis on
Tulsa, Memphis and Virginia Tech as we put on UNC. That's how
I'm going to do it here and that's how I want it done here."
The Pirates are 2-1 overall and
the two-time defending Conference USA champions will be 2-0 in
league play going into their Oct. 9 game at Southern Miss,
regardless of the outcome in Chapel Hill. But the Golden Eagles,
obviously, are next week.
Pirates in Buies Creek
Georgia State's game with
Campbell in Buies Creek last Saturday was the first of two stops
in the region for former ECU coach John Thompson this season.
Thompson is defensive coordinator for the Panthers, a first-year
Football Championship Subdivision program coached by Bill Curry.
Thompson was linebackers coach on Curry's staff at Alabama in
1987. Georgia State plays Old Dominion in Norfolk on Oct. 23.
"It's a blessing being with
Coach Curry," Thompson said. "People around here remember when
he came and visited us (at ECU). It's a dream come true to get
with him and what he stands for. It's the basics of what
coaching is about. We have to start from the ground up with
everything. ... This first road trip was the first time a lot of
these guys were on an airplane."
Georgia State used a field goal
with 0.5 second left for a 24-21 win over the Camels, a
non-scholarship program in its third year of resurrection.
The Pirates were 3-20 during
Thompson's two seasons at the helm and he has said, "We didn't
win enough games and we didn't get enough time." Despite the
struggles, Thompson does have the distinction of bringing
running back Chris Johnson, now a standout with the Tennessee
Titans, to ECU.
"Chris and I stay in touch,"
Thompson said. "We texted back and forth (Friday)."
News 12 sports anchor Brian
North and former Pirate walk-on long snapper Britt Johnson were
among those who came to see Thompson again.
Thompson coached against the
Tar Heels the first time they played in Greenville on Oct. 11,
2003, a 28-17 North Carolina victory.
"I remember that game very
well," Thompson said. "Marvin (Townes) had a big game (26
carries for 100 yards with a 26-yard touchdown reception). We
scored right there at the end of the half."
Desmond Robinson's 3-yard pass
to Tutu Moye with 17 seconds left gave ECU a 10-7 lead at the
"That was a big deal," Thompson
said. "That was a big, big game. Both of us were winless when we
came into the game. It was what it was and it is what it is."
Thompson was asked if he had
any thoughts for the Pirates on Saturday's renewal of the series
which the Tar Heels lead, 9-2-1
"I wish 'em well," Thompson
said. "It's all good."
Campbell also has ECU
connections. Camels head coach Dale Steele was a member of the
Pirates coaching staff from 1989 to1994. During his
administration, Campbell president Dr. Jerry Wallace, an ECU
alumnus, has overseen the return of the football program, the
construction of a new basketball arena and improvements of
facilities in other sports as well.
Routine plays important
McNeill was asked what would be
important for the Pirates on Saturday.
"Making sure that we stay
focused like we have been," he said. "Routine plays. I think
those are key. When we make routine plays and have the highest
pile of routine plays, we'll be successful at the end of the
game. That means the routine catch, routine block, routine run,
routine throw, routine snap, routine tackle. Making sure we do a
great job on routine plays. Making sure that we play for 60
"It's going to be a dogfight
the entire time. And then, making sure that we feed off of one
another again — offense to defense, defense to offense and both
of those guys to special teams."
The ECU coach cited the major
influences on his approach to coaching.
"My philosophy comes from my
dad (Ruffin McNeill, Sr.) and Coach Dye," McNeill said. "It's
not who you're playing, it's what you do. It's what your team
can do. Focus on yourself. That's one thing that Coach Dye
emphasized to us. Your fundamentals and technique will be
important, especially in a hard-fought football game. Making
sure you take care of the football on offense and take the ball
away on defense. And make sure you play as hard as you possibly
could every play.
"Those things I'll take into
the game as well."
It's been a rainy week in the
region with Eastern North Carolina currently under flood watches
or warnings. The advanced forecast is calling for sunny skies
and a temperature in the low 70s at kickoff on Saturday.
The circumstances the Pirates
have dealt with in practice in preparation for the Tar Heels
indicate the need for a large indoor facility for ECU's outdoor
"We'd like to have one right
now, I think," Ruff said with a laugh on Wednesday. "We'd get
some work done. It would be good to have one. We have to go
outside and get a little wet and damp."
Hot weather has given way to
rain systems moving up from the south since Sunday.
"If it got too hot, we could
still get work done (in an indoor facility)," Ruff said. "We
could go in there on tough weather days and not just for us. I'm
sure the outside sports like soccer and probably Billy (Godwin)
in baseball — a lot of those teams could use it, too. The track
team as well, if they were doing some workouts.
"I think it would help — not
just football — but all the sports, too."
Speaking of 'Stas'
The North Carolina game and the
circumstances of the 1975 game serve to remind some older
citizens of the Pirate Nation of the passing of Clarence
Stasavich. The late Dr. Henry VanSant, former ECU player, coach
and athletic administrator, told a story about a trip to a New
York City restaurant with 'Stas' in 1965.
"We were seated and the
waitress came and 'Stas' pulled out a quarter," VanSant
recalled. "He spun it on the table and said, 'Young lady, if you
look after us, that whole quarter can be yours.' "
|Pat Dye during his
tenure in the 1970s
as East Carolina's
head football coach
VanSant, who laughed heartily
at the recollection, didn't indicate that the old Pirate coach
was kidding. 'Stas' was what old schoolers would call old