(ECU SID Photo)
As a former East Carolina football
player, new Pirates head coach Ruffin McNeill values his experience as
well as that of his fellow lettermen. He told them as much at a catered
meal in the Murphy Center the night before ECU's spring game.
"We had a great visit," McNeill said.
"It's special to see those guys, and I want all of them to come back.
The key is under the mat for those guys."
It's not just a matter of backslapping
fellowship. McNeill sees former players as an influential resource in
"They're very special," he said.
"They're very important for what I want here. I'm a letterwinner so
that's a little bit different from normal. I have a lot of respect for
what we are about.
"I want them heavily involved in the
program. I want them involved in what I call the village raising of our
football team. They know that they are welcome here any time."
Seniors from the 2009 Conference USA
champions were special guests at the fete on April 16.
The former players strolled onto
Bagwell Field of Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium at halftime of the spring game.
The group included 90-year old Adrian Brown, who was in a wheelchair. He
was a member of the 1941 team, which went 7-0.
Former Pirate linebacker and pro
standout Roderick Coleman, who finished his career at ECU in 1998 and
recently retired from the NFL, was among the intrigued witnesses of
ECU's new aerial attack at the April 17 spring game.
Three quarterbacks combined to complete
40 of 71 passes for 354 yards and three touchdowns at the Purple-Gold
contest, although McNeill lamented dropped passes and offensive
coordinator Lincoln Riley said that execution had not been on the same
level as in earlier stages of spring workouts.
The new offense was going against ECU's
defense, of course, which had achieved a degree of familiarity with the
new attack in 14 previous spring sessions.
"The offense is high pace," Coleman
said. "It's a high scoring offense so the defense is going to be in
shape going into the season. I think it's going to be a great system.
"You have to be in shape to defend
against that system. You definitely have to be in shape to keep up with
the pace of the offense. It's going to wear defenses down during the
course of the season if they just keep the tempo going and the timing
"It's going to sneak up on a lot of
teams early and it's going to be too late for them to come back."
Coleman has a daycare facility in
Atlanta called Angels Academy. He works with the Rod Coleman Foundation,
which has an expressed goal of helping young people become
self-sufficient. Coleman, who brought his 10-year old son, Jashon, to
the spring game, is looking to move to the Charlotte area and become
active in supporting a new school in Mint Hill, Rocky River High School.
"I'm going to be over there helping
them out," Coleman said. "I'm going to try coaching and see if I like
it. Everything is centered around helping kids out, focusing on the kids
and the next generation."
Coleman's son, Jashon, may take after
"Defense, all the way," Coleman said of
his offspring's proclivities. "He likes to hit. It's tough when he plays
with kids his own age because he's bigger than them. He has to play with
the bigger kids. Most of his friends are 12 and 13. He's got to play
with the big boys.
"He loves to hit and he loves to
tackle. He's a tough little kid but he's nice and well disciplined."
Andrew Bayes, ECU's all-time leader in
punting average for a season with 48.1 yards in 1999, was another
interested observer at the spring game.
"I think Coach Ruff's doing a great
job," Bayes said. "Looks like they're spreading it out, which is exactly
what they're looking to do. They had some big plays and I think that's
what that offense is geared towards — pick the defense apart and hope
for a breakdown that might expose the defense for a big play. You saw
that a few times today."
Effect of stadium expansion
The construction which will enclose the
East end of Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium provided a backdrop for the spring
"It will definitely make it louder,"
Bayes said. "With seven- or eight-thousand more fans in the end zone,
especially if they put the students down there, I think it gives the
defense an incredible advantage when the ball's on that end of the
"I think this stadium, which is already
loud — you enclose that end zone — it creates more noise and a greater
home field advantage."
With the Murphy Center at the west end,
Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium will be practically enclosed when expansion is
completed. As a punter and a kicker, Bayes was well aware of the effect
that winds could have at home games.
"This field has always been like a wind
tunnel, just straight blowing west," Bayes said. "It's typically a
problem. It's going to be interesting. I don't know if it's high enough
to break down on that wind. I don't think it will create a swirl or
anything like that but I don't know.
"This is a windy part of the country so
it might not break it down a bit."
Kevin Miller, who scored 287 career
points as a Pirate kicker from 1999 to 2002, shared his thoughts.
"This was a fairly tough place to kick,
wind-wise, especially before the Murphy Center," Miller said. "Once the
stadium is enclosed, I think it will probably be much easier to kick
down on that end.
"Until it's fully finished and you're
out there kicking, you don't really know, but I would anticipate that it
would be a little bit easier, at least for field goals."
Special teams coach Mark Nelson will
have to help his players adjust to any new wind patterns.
"As we learn it, we'll use it more,"