Pirates look to establish identity|ECU seeking to develop its ‘brand’

Published 9:25 am Sunday, August 8, 2010

By By BRIAN HAINES, Sports Writer
GREENVILLE — In his first media day as East Carolina University’s head football coach, Ruffin McNeill addressed several topics, but placed an emphasis on establishing leadership, depth and a new brand of football during the hot summer days that lead up to the Pirates’ season opener on Sept. 5, at home against Tulsa.
“It’s a beginning of a new era with our staff,” McNeill said. “The program’s success is well documented. Two things happen in coaching: A coach leaves because he has not done well, or he leaves because he has done too well. In this case (former ECU coach) Skip (Holtz) and his staff did a great job.”
Holtz led the Pirates to back-to-back Conference USA championships before accepting an offer to coach South Florida in January. Holtz’s departure opened the door for long-time Texas Tech staff member, and ECU alum, McNeill to come in and take the reigns.
McNeill will lead a young but talented club that lost 18 starters from last year’s 9-5 (7-1) team and try to continue the momentum established by his predecessor.
“Going into camp, when you lose 28 seniors and Linval (Joseph, a junior DT who left for the NFL) of course you worry about the talent level; I have been asked about that quite a number of times. But the one thing that is not mentioned is the leadership that, that group provided.
“So one of the things coming into camp as a staff we have had to make sure we develop the leadership. There is different types of leaders, some are vocal or physical or both. … There will be some guys that have to play that have not had significant reps so now it’s their turn to get reps, and I’m excited to see those guys.”
Eventually the leaders will emerge, some have already, but a tougher task will be establishing depth on a team that has tons of position battles taking place.
“The next thing we want to develop is depth at all positions,” McNeill said. “We will have full camp to develop depth offensively, defensively and on special teams.”
Last but not least, McNeill wants his team to forge an identity.
“The final thing is what we put on tape because that’s all that matters. What’s our personality? What’s our brand?,” McNeill said. “There will be other things, but going into fall camp those things: Leadership, depth and the development of our personality and brand are at the fore front.”
McNeill went on to say that the “Pirate brand” is fluent term that will change as the team does.
“(The brand) is what we have to establish,” McNeill said. “Each year it changes from team to team. You can even look back at the teams that Skip had here, the personality of that team might have changed. That’s one of the things we have to do, establish that personality. It’s one of the challenges to me, that I really relish in.”
Another challenge for the first-year coach will be keeping his team’s focus limited to the present. The Pirates have a loaded schedule this year with several attractive games including two instate rivalries in a three week span as the team will hit the road to play UNC on Oct. 2 then face N.C. State at home on Oct. 16.
“The day to day process is to focus. A lot of people have approached about games on the schedule and down the road … But my focus is on today’s practice and today’s operation,” McNeill said. “Right now there are a lot of guys that will get significant playing time that didn’t (in the past). I think it’s very important that I make sure they focus on a sequence of things. Today, for example, it is execution, focus on making the routine plays and tempo. They have still not reached a tempo that we want on offense, defense or special teams yet.
“Once the season starts we are not focused on the next game. I know there are a lot of games on the schedule, or whole schedule is filled with top-20 teams, but we have to make sure we focus on the day-to-day process and one game a week.”
Pirates complete second workout 
After conducting its annual Media Day activities early Saturday afternoon, the East Carolina football team returned to the Cliff Moore Practice Complex for its second practice session of the fall.
 The Pirates spent the period in shorts and helmets before entering the next stage of preparation by putting on shoulder pads Sunday. The team will conduct its first practice in full gear Tuesday afternoon.
 “We didn’t have a team lift this morning so I did see more energy than yesterday,” head coach Ruffin McNeill said. “We executed better and our tempo picked up today. I was very pleased with the enthusiasm on offense, defense and special teams.”
 While yesterday’s session focused mainly on tempo, today’s area of heavy concentration was execution and fundamentals. During the quarterback’s “Routes on Air” period, all five passers had to complete each throw in the segment before moving to the next pattern. On the defensive side of the ball, ends went through multiple repetitions of proper technique work with coach Marc Yellock.
 “Fundamentals were a key for today and I saw some guys really reminding each other to play with better pad level and technique,” McNeill said.
 The offense spent additional time working against defensive scouts as the wide receivers went one-on-one against the secondary.
 “On offense, I saw the kids catching on to some things that [offensive coordinator Lincoln] Riley was installing,” McNeill added. “Special teams also had a really great day running and being active.”
 During the early afternoon’s Media Day session, approximately 30 members of eastern North Carolina and southeastern Virginia newspaper, radio and television outlets came to the Murphy Center to conduct player and coach interviews. Twenty-six players were requested and McNeill gave a preseason state-of-the-team address before going through a question-and-answer session.