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Pirate Notebook No. 449
Monday, October 25, 2010

Denny O'Brien

Pirate Nation riding on the "Ruffwagon"

Ruffin McNeill
(ECU SID images)

Harris Poll

For the fifth year in a row, Denny O'Brien is a member of the voting panel for the Harris Interactive College Football Poll commissioned by the Bowl Championship Series. As a service to readers of this site, O'Brien's ballot will be published in this space each Monday throughout the rest of the season.

A senior columnist for, Bonesville The Magazine and The Pirates' Chest Magazine, O'Brien was nominated to the Harris Poll panel by Conference USA. The Harris Poll is a component of the BCS Standings.

View the panel of 114 voters in the 2010 Harris Interactive College Football Poll.

Denny O'Brien's Harris Poll Ballot

(Ballot cast 10.24.10)

  1. Oregon
  2. Auburn
  3. Boise State
  4. Texas Christian
  5. Michigan State
  6. Missouri
  7. Wisconsin
  8. Ohio State
  9. Alabama
10. Utah
11. Oklahoma
12. Stanford
13. Louisiana State
14. Nebraska
15. Arizona
16. Florida State
17. South Carolina
18. Virginia Tech
19. Iowa
20. Oklahoma State
21. Miami
22. Arkansas
23. Mississippi State
24. Baylor
25. Nevada

Weekly BCS Rankings

Harris, AP, Coaches Polls



Pirate Nation riding on the "Ruffwagon"
Week #2 BCS Rankings
Harris, Associated Press & Coaches Polls
C-USA Standings, Scores, Schedule, TV
East Carolina-Marshall Game Center Coverage
Pirates exceeding expectations
Blacknall effective upon return
Audio: Dustin Lineback Post-Game Comments
Audio: Coach Ruff Post- Game Press Conference
Kevin's Keys to the Marshall Game
Pirates preparing to avoid trap
Hilliard's stock rises in final prep season
"CK" makes a lasting first impression
Audio: Coach Ruff Game Week Press Conference

By Denny O'Brien
All Rights Reserved.

Visit any college town and youíll hear stories about the galvanizing and polarizing figures who have defined the athletics legacy of the local university. Greenville is no different.

If you drop by one of the local barbecue haunts near East Carolina, youíll hear no shortage of stories about Leo Jenkins and Clarence Stasavich, the iconic men who are largely the reason for the Piratesí football-first approach. Without them, itís hard to envision ECU filling a 50,000 seat venue with regularity in this day and time.

Youíll also hear stories about guys like former athletics director Mike Hamrick, whose actions throughout his tenure kept Pirates fans splintered. His contentious relationship with former football coach Steve Logan forced fans to choose sides and wage an internal civil war that has taken years to fully overcome.

Those who have attended any of the Pirates four home games this season ó all wins, by the way ó can confirm that ECU has completely emerged from the rubble. If you polled any of the 50,145 in Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium on Saturday about why they are emphatically rooting in unison, Iím guessing the response will be unanimous.

Ruffin McNeill. The Piratesí first-year head coach. The former ECU defensive back who got his undergraduate degree in education and a graduate one in counseling.

Itís obvious he is putting both degrees to work in his current gig. Because so far his tenure at ECU has been both educational and therapeutic.

ďWe were tremendously impressed with his interview. But I thought it would take some time for the Pirate Nation to adjust to our new coach,Ē athletics director Terry Holland said. ďBut like he is with everybody, as soon as you meet him, youíve got to like him.

ďItís just amazing the impact he has on individuals, as well as collective groups of people, whether itís ECU alumni, or whether itís the Durham Sports Club or whoever it may be. You have to really like the guy and you have to really like what he stands for. I think heís just so genuine. Heís as genuine as anyone Iíve ever met.Ē

That was important given how Skip Holtzís time in Greenville concluded. While there is no denying the Piratesí success under Holtzís leadership, the peripherals of his tenure became a source of frustration for many fans.

The verbal message from Holtz was his loyalty and commitment to East Carolina, yet the conclusion of each season was met with him entertaining overtures from other universities. There also were a few cases of team dissension along with several players who found permanent residence within the coachís proverbial dog house.

And this is by no means an indictment against a coach who was the architect behind consecutive Conference USA titles. Such a position would be both short-sighted and foolish. Rather it is a testament to the unique way in which McNeill has operated his program and how everyone has bought into his methodology.

ďCoach Ruff is a playersí coach to the max,Ē senior linebacker Dustin Lineback said. ďHeís all about family, heís all about doing the right thing and being professional. Itís really a blessing to play for him.

ďHe loves being here. He wants to be here. Heís not going anywhere unless they get rid of him. The camaraderie around the players and the coaches is unbelievable. Itís way stronger than it ever was since Iíve been here. You donít let him down because he cares so much.Ē

It would be easy to dismiss Linebackís comments if they were isolated to only him. But this is the consistent tone from within the East Carolina locker room, and itís clear that these players cringe at the notion of disappointing their head coach.

Not because they fear immediate exile on the bench. Nothing of the sort. Rather McNeill has invested so much relationally in his players that it motivates them to push their limits further than before.

Just like his deep East Carolina roots make fans cheer even louder and longer for him. Heís Eastern North Carolina through and through, and that Ďone of usí sentiment has been uniformly embraced by fans.

And for different reasons, the media also has jumped aboard this fast moving Ruffwagon. You wonít find a bigger group of skeptics than our bunch, but McNeillís surprising success, demeanor, and straight-shooting approach has most of us now bought into Ruffmania.

Even so, itís important to remember that we are only seven games into McNeillís tenure, and it would be premature to predict how his career at East Carolina will unfold. You donít have to look too far to find coaches at other schools who have experienced this level of early success only to see it fizzle down the road.

But thatís irrelevant at this point.

What isnít, however, is the fact that in all my years of covering East Carolina football ó which is entering its second decade and fourth head coach ó Iím witnessing something new about the Pirates. And I honestly donít know if I can justify it with words.

Maybe the buzz around Greenville is dictated by the surprising 5-2 record the Pirates have posted despite losing 29 players from consecutive C-USA titles. Maybe itís the installment of a new wide-open offense or the addition of the Boneyard.

Or maybe it can all be traced back to ECUís lovable, huggable head coach. It hasnít taken long for him to galvanize the Pirate Nation into one.

E-mail Denny O'Brien

Denny O'Brien Archives

10/25/2010 03:15 AM

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