Thrilled three times over

Published 7:09 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

After missing out on a bowl game last season, East Carolina coach Ruffin McNeill and the Pirates are thrilled to be back in the postseason where they will face the University of Louisiana-Lafayette in the R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl. (WDN Photo/Brian Haines)

GREENVILLE — The excitement was hard to contain for Ruffin McNeill as he stood in front of a podium at the Murphy Center to speak about the Pirates Dec. 22 R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl matchup with the University of Louisiana-Lafayette.
As a fan of East Carolina University, a former Pirates football player and the team’s current coach, McNeill receives three helpings of joy with every Pirates win.
On the flip side, an ECU loss also hits three times as hard. So when the team saw its streak of five straight bowl appearances snapped last season there weren’t too many people who more disappointed than the Pirates third-year coach.
“I have a unique situation here. I see it from an ex-player as a Pirate, as a coach of the Pirates and also as an alum and a fan. When it comes to wins and losses, I enjoy them or hurt three times as (much). So not going to a bowl game last year bothered me. It ate at my core,” McNeill said. “So being able to accomplish one of our goals to get to a bowl game was a great accomplishment.”
The Pirates (8-4, 7-1 Conference USA) will look to give McNeill another triple in the happiness department when they take on the Ragin’ Cajuns (8-4, 6-2 Sun Belt Conference) next Saturday at noon.
The Cajuns appear to be a program on the rise as they snapped a 41-year bowl drought last season when they were invited to the R+L Carriers Bowl and topped San Diego State 32-30.
Also making McNeill happy was the fact that the Pirates will head to the Mercedes-Benz Superdome with all but one of their players available as DE Justin Dixon (knee) was on the only name on the team’s injured list.
“I’m very thankful for that and everyday I go to practice the whole time praying that the players stay up and stay healthy,” McNeill said. “I think our depth came to our aid this year. I felt we developed that from spring, summer and fall camp and whenever a guy did get nicked we had a player ready to step up and fill in … Going to New Orleans with a healthy football team, I feel good about that and we want to stay that way going down there.”

Holland address          conference alignment
It was announced earlier this week that East Carolina AD Terry Holland will be stepping down from that position and will serve in an athletics director emeritus role until his contract expires in 2014. On Thursday, Holland took some time to speak with the media and the first thing he hit on was conference alignment. East Carolina was recently invited to join the Big East Conference in 2014 as a football-only member, but on Thursday the Big East made some headlines as talk heated up about the basketball power schools defecting.
“Right now we just joined the Big East and everybody can easily say, ‘It’s very unstable isn’t it?’ and I say, ‘Can you tell me a situation that’s available to us that is stable?’ and there’s not one,” Holland said. “What we’ve determined is that we were very concerned about our teammates, another words who’s going to be with us in this journey and that’s what we started looking for and we said the Big East has the best teammates for us right now.”
Holland, who became the athletic director at East Carolina in 2004, has done a tremendous job elevating the facilities and status of the university. Holland took pride in his accomplishments and said there is still plenty of work to be done.
“I think we’re better off than we have been in some time,” Holland said. “But at the same time there is a lot left to be accomplished.”