(ECU SID Photos)
Overcoming adversity is a consistent theme in athletics. East Carolina's
big ticket programs have certainly faced their share of challenges of
Football was coming off of its second straight Conference USA
championship and it appeared that Skip Holtz was intent on remaining
with the program when the South Florida job opened up with all of its
personal allures for the former Pirate skipper.
ECU athletic director Terry Holland scoured the landscape before
settling on alumnus Ruffin McNeill as Holtz's successor. The Pirate
Nation has either renewed or developed an affection for McNeill and his
But McNeill and his new staff have some obstacles to overcome. The
continuity that existed in the five-year Holtz era is gone. The coaches
have been looking at tape and at this point are probably trying to put
faces and names with numbers.
The players will be learning new systems and terminology in spring
practice. The "Air Raid" offense has no field general at the moment.
There are foundations to be laid as opposed to building on the existing
There is good news, however. The program is obviously in much better
shape than when Holtz was involved in a coaching transition following
the 2004 season. A 3-20 span preceded his arrival.
"We're not coming into a program we have to build," McNeill said. "It's
a program. Those kids know how to win. You watch 'em work in that weight
room. It's a group of men that really push themselves to the limit. That
makes it easy now.
"There will be some things that we change personal philosophy-wise for
them, from me to them, but they're ready to make that move."
McNeill relishes the task at hand.
"I said it the first day, I feel blessed," said the new ECU coach. "I
know I'm blessed to be here. Things happen for a reason. I will do the
best job I can every day to make sure I do what I can do to make East
Carolina better. That's my only thought process when I wake up. What can
I do to make East Carolina better?"
McNeill wants that mindset to pervade the program.
"The coaches I bring in will think the same way," he said. "The
secretaries upstairs will think the same way. Everybody that has been
assigned to me will think that same way. What can we do to make this
university better? That is non-negotiable. There are certain things we
can negotiate but that thought process is non-negotiable and that's the
fun part of it.
"O.K., what can we do today to make it better. Yeah, we can do this
we dive into it."
ECU took a step toward improvement on Wednesday with the announcement of
signing of receiver Lance Lewis out of East Mississippi Community
College. At 6-foot-3 and 200 pounds, the former Concord (NC) High
standout would seem to possess the kind of athleticism and size desired
among skill position performers in the new offense.
Adjustments produce hoops win
The East Carolina basketball program has existed in a virtual vacuum
this season. The fan base's attention was on the football team's bid for
the league title at the outset of hoops season in November. Then the
focus shifted to the Liberty Bowl on Jan. 2 in Memphis.
Football stayed in the consciousness of the Pirate Nation with the
departure of Holtz and the ensuing coaching search. The saga continued
as a new coaching staff was assembled and sought to keep the
class intact — with some promising additions — prior to the
date last week.
ECU had a goal of going .500 in Conference USA but was just 1-8 in
league play heading into the home matchup with Tulane on Wednesday night.
Possible early momentum in the league race was jeopardized by the
suspension of leading rebounder Darrius Morrow for three games in
pulled out the sorely-needed win
over the Green Wave with some timely plays in the final three minutes.
ECU's only previous league win
came against Tulane on
One thing Mack McCarthy's teams at East Carolina have shown is the
ability to snap out of tailspins by making effective adjustments. Coming
a 100-49 defeat at Marshall on Saturday that extended the Pirates'
losing streak to three games, ECU came out and took a 10-point lead at
halftime in their second meeting with the Wave.
Although Tulane went ahead in the last five minutes, the Pirates pulled
out the 71-68 victory.
"I thought the start of the game indicated that we were focused and had
bounced back from what was a really disappointing performance Saturday,"
McCarthy said. "I thought a bigger statement about the team was the way
that we lost the lead in the second half, but didn't hang our heads. We
came back and regained the lead. I think that speaks volumes for where
they are. They're still trying to do everything it takes to win.
"I'm really happy for the team to get this win here at home. Probably
other than the George Washington game, this is the best we've played at
McCarthy has sought to correct an overdependence on junior point guard
Brock Young on offense.
"On the one hand, you want to have the ball in Brock's hands a lot,"
McCarthy said. "But I thought we started relying on that too much. It's
fine when Brock has the ball in his hands and the other team is pressing
and he's making decisions four-on-three, five-on-three or even
"When it's five-on-five, his height (5-foot-11) and the fact
that everybody is focused on him keeps him from being as productive. It
makes the decision-making for him harder. He wasn't getting a lot of
"Tonight we didn't execute perfectly, but we still had some more ball
reversals with some inside-out action. He had more opportunities to
drive and either get fouled or make the shot."
Young, ECU's career leader in assists, had 18 points and
9 assists as
the Pirates swept their regular season series with Tulane. Young had
eight assists and no turnovers in the first half. He said the Pirates
came out with more energy and a new offensive set on Wednesday night.
"These past couple games we haven't played with a lot of energy," Young
said. "There was no push to the offense. Tonight we had more push. We
have a new set where there is more spacing so the bigs can isolate in
the post and the guards can screen up top. We had a nice flow in the
"This offense is simpler. We screen away, the bigs flash and we just
Diamond Pirates battle weather
ECU baseball coach Billy Godwin has been dealing with ice, rain and cold
weather in general since practice started on Friday, Jan. 29, but he's
not finding fault with Mother Nature.
"We're not complaining but in 24 years this is tough as I remember,"
Godwin said. "We're not making excuses. We're just plodding along."
ECU has scrimmaged and worked out in its facilities underneath Clark-LeClair
Stadium. The Pirates practiced for two-and-a-half hours on Wednesday.
"We can't control some things," Godwin said. "But I feel good about
where we are. A lot of people are worse off than we are."
Godwin said he would make decisions about his pitching rotation for the
season-opening series with Virginia, scheduled for Feb. 19-21, after
workouts this weekend.