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View from the 'ville
Thursday, September 30, 2010

By Al Myatt

Order Before They're Gone: 2010 Bonesville The Magazine

Dye: Ruff knows how to get Pirates ready

By Al Myatt
All rights reserved.

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 bowl games.

Dye, who was 48-18-1 with the Pirates, remembers subsequent trips to Kenan Stadium.

"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 decision.

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."

Pirate focus

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 are."

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 development.

"The third part is to keep providing competition at positions to develop depth at all positions."

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 break.

"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 minutes.

"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."

Rainy week

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 athletic teams.

"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.' "

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 school.

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10/20/2010 01:01 AM


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