McNeill on adversity: Bring it on

Published 7:33 pm Monday, August 29, 2011

East Carolina head coach Ruffin McNeill

GREENVILLE — Hurricane Irene did not show preferential treatment to East Carolina head football coach Ruffin McNeill as he witnessed several trees fall in his yard over the weekend, with one striking his house while he was inside with his wife Erlene and dog Samantha. Nobody was injured during the incident.
“It affected us personally. We had 13 trees go down in our yard, one hit our house,” McNeill said. “I know there are a lot of families and people that are hurt way worse than we are, but we were in the midst of this one and Irene affected all of us. Erlene and I’s heart-felt prayers go out to everybody that is still going through some things and I think this is just a bump in the road for us and Pirate Nation.”
McNeill, who played defensive back for ECU from 1976-79, said for him, the unfortunate event strengthened his definition of what it means to be a part of Pirate Nation and delivered a passionate message to all East Carolinians.
“Pirates, what are we? Pirates helping Pirates,” McNeill said. “It’s pride. It’s tradition. It’s passion. It’s a group facing adversity, and when that group faces adversity, it looks it square in the eye, hits it right in the jaw and it says, ‘Bring it on. Want some, get some.’ That’s East Carolina to me, that’s what it’s about.”
McNeill recounted the emotional day as he sat and watched his home take a pounding from Irene.
“Erlene and I were there, following our own curfew rule, and I was counting (the trees) fall out back. We saw one (fall), it was a big one, then two. The third one we heard the boom hit,” McNeill said.
“I got mad, I really did, not at God but just at the situation. Enough is enough. Then the fourth one hit, the fifth one, sixth one, seventh one, eighth one, ninth one and by that time it was dark.
“Erlene and I got up the next morning and assessed the damage and there were four more down. We got out with no injuries, Erlene was a trooper during that time. … I was on the back porch, Erlene wanted me to come in but I just wanted to sit and watch it and be a part of it; maybe that wasn’t the smartest thing to do. … It was tough the next morning to watch what it had done.”
McNeill, whose team will begin its season this Saturday against the No. 12 Gamecocks, received a text from a friend that likened the current situation to when Hurricane Floyd smashed the East Coast in September of 1999. Ironically, at that time, then-coach Steve Logan was preparing the Pirates for a Sept. 18 showdown at South Carolina. After that, the storm-battered group would face No. 9 Miami in a game that was scheduled to be played at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium, but due to damage from Floyd, was moved to N.C. State’s Carter-Finley Stadium.
Despite having access to every excuse in the book, the 1999 Pirates soldiered on and topped South Carolina 21-3 before stunning a Hurricanes team that would feature 30 future NFLers 27 -23 to finish the season with a 9-3 record.
As East Carolina gears up for its battle with South Carolina, McNeill is hoping that  his team will draw inspiration from its past, consider it Pirates helping Pirates.
“I pulled up the (video of the) 1999 East Carolina football at the Spirit Awards banquet and watched it — coaches don’t cry, but their eyeballs get a little sweaty — and I showed that to our team yesterday,” McNeill said.
The nine-minute-one-second video of the 1999 Pirates, which includes current defensive line coach Marc Yellock (class of 2000) playing with a broken leg, had a resounding affect on the team.
“To watch what that team did, I know it struck nerves,” McNeill said. “It got really quiet in that room because they could identify with the people. … It was quiet, you could hear them breathing, and there wasn’t much breathing. … They identified with how those players went through adversity, looked it square in the eye, hit it right in the jaw and said, ‘Bring it on. Want some, get some.’”