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Pirate Notebook No. 490
Monday, August 27, 2012

Denny O'Brien

Denny O'Brien

McNeill facing pivotal game, campaign


McNeill facing pivotal game, campaign
Hoops recruiting: Forward Brandan Stith...
Defensive improvement still vital
Scrimmages wrap up, season draws near
One-on-One Interview with Daniel Drake
One-on-One Interview with Dayon Arrington
One-on-One Interview with Grant Harner
One-on-One Interview with Warren Harvey
One-on-One Interview with Justin Jones
One-on-One Interview with Jacobi Jenkins
One-on-One Interview with Will Simmons
One-on-One Interview with John Lattimore
One-on-One Interview with Reggie Bullock
One-on-One Interview with Lee Pegues
One-on-One Interview with Andrew Bodenheimer
One-on-One Interview with Derrell Johnson
One-on-One Interview with Justin Hardy
One-on-One Interview with Damon Magazu
One-on-One Interview with Shane Carden
One-on-One Interview with Jeremy Grove
Impressive film clip brings Green, ECU together
One-on-One Interview with Rio Johnson
One-on-One Interview with Michael Brooks
Holland: 'Merger was not a good idea'
Positions at stake as players learn T.B.A.
Three sides of the ball times three
WBVL Audio: Coach Ruff Media Day Presser
Permalink: East Carolina 2012 Football Schedule
Permalink: Year-by-Year Recruiting Classes

By Denny O'Brien
All Rights Reserved.

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To suggest that Ruffin McNeillís third season as East Carolinaís head coach is a pivotal one is an understatement.

While itís premature to state that McNeill will be coaching from the hot seat, consecutive losing seasons havenít left much wiggle room. As such, it is imperative that the Pirates get off to a convincing start Saturday.

A result similar to the last time ECU faced Appalachian State ó a nail-gnawing 29-24 victory ó wonít do much to ease the anxiety of the home faithful. With the Piratesí next three games on the road against opponents that routed them last year, there wonít be much room for error after the opener.

There also wonít be anyone remaining on the schedule with less talent than the Mountaineers, which is why it is important that ECU get off to a convincing start.

A commanding win over App would build much needed momentum with a difficult gauntlet looming, and would reinforce fans' confidence in McNeill. It also would help soothe some of the wounds that were inflicted by the Big Eastís most recent slight.

The latest round of conference shuffling has generated additional unrest from ECU diehards. It also has reemphasized the urgency with which East Carolina must operate its athletics programs ó especially football ó given that the Pirates will be unable to leverage conference affiliation as a springboard to prosperity.

Because given the current environment, failing to win in the short term could seriously damage the Pirates chances to succeed in the long run.

This isnít to suggest that ECU fans are demanding a change or that ECU athletics director Terry Holland is itching for a switch. There are no indications to suggest that to be the case.

In fact, a quick analysis of McNeillís tenure produces many bright spots. His staff recruits as well, or better, than any group before, and does so while facing enormous challenges.

McNeill also brought with him an exciting brand of offense with which fans easily identify. The attacking, pass-heavy mentality is how East Carolina branded itself in the 1990s, and itís what even the most casual football observers will tout when you mention the Pirates.

That McNeill and defensive coordinator Brian Mitchell rethought their defensive philosophy after a disastrous 2010 campaign also canít be overlooked. Reconfiguring the defense to a 3-4 look to better fit the current roster and the players they were recruiting already has paid huge dividends.

The Pirates went from the worst defense in the nation to a respectable, at-times-stout unit in 2011.

McNeill also deserves credit for his ability to upgrade his staff following departures last season. By adding Kirk Doll and Dave Nichol, it improved the collective experience and expertise of his staff, which was a definite need.

And when you measure the likability of ECU head coaches ó a quality that canít be understated with donors ó it simply doesnít get much better than Coach Ruff. His career as an ECU player, his personality and his Down East demeanor make him a major hit with fans.

Still, McNeillís ultimate evaluation will be tied directly to the numbers that comprise his win-loss record. You have to think that anything less than a winning season and bowl berth would not guarantee his return in 2013.

It wasnít long ago that athletics directors operated under the philosophy that head coaches received a requisite four years before an overall assessment could be made. That no longer is the case. Given the amount of money at stake, ADs can no longer operate with that level of patience.

Thatís because deep-pocketed donors seldom do.

The overwhelming majority of those who fill Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium this Saturday will be pulling for McNeill to succeed and remain the Piratesí head coach until he decides to hang up the whistle. But an unexpected loss to Appalachian would quickly change the mood. The last thing McNeill needs is for the season to quickly shift into panic mode.

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08/26/2012 08:59 PM

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