GREENVILLE, N.C. – First-year East Carolina University Head Football Coach Ruffin McNeill addressed members of the media Monday about the upcoming Military Bowl presented by Northrop Grumman. The following are selected comments:
On The 2010 Regular Season
“The season was a special one. It was our first as a transitional staff. We brought in new philosophies offensively, defensively and on special teams. We also brought in personal philosophies and pillars for the program. Without the team concept and one-for-all mentality that we had in our office, none of it would have been possible.
“One of the primary objectives getting a staff together when coming to East Carolina was chemistry. It will be there as long as I’m here. Chemistry is an important phase. I know all of you here in your jobs have chemistry as a key for how well you work together and how much everyone puts in and operates. Here it starts with staff chemistry.
“It’s not just with the coaching staff. I’m blessed to have an office of young ladies who are very smart and hard working. Those young women do a lot of work for us, more than you can imagine. They assist with official recruiting visits, unofficial recruiting visits, preparing for the banquets, daily duties for position coaches and groups and so much more. I would be lost without their cooperation and assistance.
“Also this year, up front there is an administrative staff of Antonio Huffman, Cary Godette and Harold Robinson. Antonio is the director of operations, Cary the director of administration and Harold the director of high school relations. They run a great operation. They have done a great job and made this transition year good for us.
“We came into it and one of the first things I mentioned was the no entitlement policy. I think the team did a great job of understanding that. Some guys did not understand that at first, but I think they do now.
“There is no entitlement here. It starts with me. I’m not entitled to be here as the coach. It’s an honor for me to be here. It’s not my right. It’s a privilege. That’s one of the first pillars we wanted to install into our team. Our coaches and administrators all feel the same way. We all ante up, put in the same amount of work and don’t care who gets the credit.
“That’s what the team is built on. The team is first. There is no entitlement. All of us are honored to be here.
“One of the first statements I made at my introductory press conference as the head coach was ‘What can I do to help East Carolina get better?’ and ‘What can we do to make East Carolina better today?’
“I’m blessed to have a staff that thinks that way. At a lot of places, people complain and criticize about this or that. This group goes the other route. You can talk about the problem or be a problem solver. We choose to be problem solvers. The entire staff has worked very hard to make sure we do that.
“We knew we were blessed to come into a program that was strong, had won recently and claimed back-to-back Conference USA championships. The team lost the most lettermen at the FBS level  and the most starters in the league.
“We knew we would have an uphill battle. The kids never flinched. The no excuse motto was in from the very beginning. Our seniors did a great job of sacrificing, being very attentive and doing whatever we asked of them. You’re talking about a group of men who were here for four or five years with one staff, but they took us under their wings and did whatever we asked of them. The adversity was there, but they kept fighting.
“Another of the things we wanted to install was our brand of Pirate football. That’s being very physical, tough and smart with a never-say-die attitude. I think that blueprint is in this team and will be for years to come. I have no hesitation in saying that. The seniors were a major part of that. The coaches I work with day in and day out have instilled that into our team as well.
“We choose to run the program as a family and we will run it as a family. I think that’s the way that works best with us. The kids have adapted to that. The love there is present. Not just among the kids, but from top to bottom in the office. Our administrators have done a great job giving us what we need in order to be successful.
“What great fan support we have from the Pirate Nation to be successful. It was certainly evident this year and continues to be seen to this day. We’re playing Maryland in the bowl game and I look at ticket allotments. Our fan base has already nearly bought out our allotment. Our average attendance for home games is more than 49,000. On a bad day we’ll have 49,000 people inside Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium. That’s awesome. The atmosphere we have here is second to none.
“Now we have finished the regular season. We finished at 6-6. We wanted to finish stronger. One of the things we talked about as a team was ending strong. I know as a staff and team we wanted to, but had some mishaps. When you look at the entire body of work, I was very pleased with how we fought. We’ll be fine, trust me on that.”
On The Post Season
“The regular season is done now. I look at this now as the post season. It started the week after we finished our last game. We started with off-season conditioning with [Assistant Athletics Director/Strength & Conditioning] Coach Mike Golden and his Blackshirts. We also have a bowl formula of practices we’ve started. It blends in rest and rehab for our hurt and nicked guys while keeping our old guys sharp.
“One of the benefits of having post-season practice is developing our younger players. The development of our young players has gone great.
“For our coaches during the bowl season, it’s like having two-a-days. For our players, it’s still only one a day. The coaches have been great in monitoring our young guys and getting after them. You see some guys who have stepped it up and gone to the next level. It’s almost like an extra spring practice session.
“We knew on the 12th, which was last night, that we wanted to implement the Maryland game plan. Each day we’ll put in a part of that plan. By Saturday we should have the entire plan in. In Washington, D.C., we’ll polish and keep dotting the Is and crossing the Ts.”
“I like the way the practices have developed. The kids are getting healthy now. You see a fresh Dwayne Harris, who was by far the most valuable player in the league. You also see Dominique Davis, Josh Smith and Dustin Lineback fresh. You see those guys getting their legs back under them. That was the design and formula for our bowl practices. It is right in stride and I feel very good about where we are.”
On Playing In A Bowl Game
“There are 35 bowl games and only 70 teams playing in bowl game. We’re one of them. I feel very proud about that fact. We didn’t care who we played, where we played, what time we played or what date we played. It didn’t matter to us and doesn’t matter to me.
“To be chosen to play in a bowl game and be one of only 70 FBS teams practicing at this time is an honor. Our kids are really excited about playing in and preparing for the Military Bowl. Our coaches started diving into Maryland once we found out who we were playing.
“Our coaches have had basically triple duty. They are recruiting, planning a practice and breaking down Maryland. I’m very proud of those guys. We’re going to do well in recruiting, too. I have no hesitation saying that. Our coaches have really worked hard on all three assets the last few weeks. I can now get our coaches focused on Maryland full blast. I’m really excited about that.”
On Maryland’s Offense
“Talking about Maryland a little bit, you start on offense. Danny O’Brien, the freshman quarterback, is 6-3 in his starts. He has done a great job. He’s a North Carolina kid who is being really steady for Coach Friedgen.
“Danny has done a really fine job for them. We’re looking forward to playing him. He has really fine control and management of the offense. He understands what Coach Friedgen and [offensive coordinator] Coach Franklin want. Danny does a good job distributing the football. I really like the way he runs the offense. I look forward to the challenge of having to defend against him.
“The running backs Da’Rel Scott and Davin Meggett are a really good combination. They both have speed, strength and great vision. They are a really big weapon for O’Brien to call upon.
“Their receiving corps is led by Torrey Smith, who is also a great special teams return guy. What else is new? We have faced great ACC receivers numerous times this season. I talked to Coach Friedgen about us being an honorary member of the ACC as this is our fourth game against an ACC team this season.
“Torrey is a typical ACC receiver with height, range, speed, good hands and ability to compete for the football. He’ll be another great challenge for our defense. We’re looking forward to the test. Also, Adrian Cannon is another receiver who figures in heavily for their offense.
“Coach Friedgen and Coach Franklin use a tight end in Will Yeatman and Matt Furstenburg.
“The offensive line has been banged up, but has done a great job. It’ll be an older and solid crew up front.
“Offensively, they’ll present a spread to our defense, but can also go big with two tight ends and try to pound the ball running.”
On Maryland’s Defense
“Defensively, they’re one of the best in the country. It’ll be another great test for our offense. They’re led up front by Joe Vellano and A.J. Francis. Both of those guys are big kids who are very active and athletic. They do a great job of causing havoc up front. Our offensive line and coach Brandon Jones have already been preparing for those guys up front. That’s where it all starts.
“Behind them, they have one of the best linebackers in two-time All-ACC selection Alex Wujciak. When you watch Maryland on film, you know who he is. He’s big and strong at 6-foot-3, 250 pounds. He carries and handles himself well and is very athletic. He does a good job of controlling their defense. The other linebacker is Adrian Moten. He’s a big kid at 6-foot-2, 230 pounds. He’s very active and does a great job for them.
“In the secondary, Kenny Tate and Antwine Perez are very active. Kenny is 6-foot-4, 220 pounds as a big safety. He’s very athletic and does a good job on the back end.
“They show some three and four-man fronts defensively. We’ve seen that this year on offense.”
On Maryland’s Special Teams
“On special teams, I already mentioned Torrey, but they also have Tony Logan. Those guys are two very skilled returners. They can cause some havoc. [ECU special teams coordinator] Clay McGuire dove into that a little bit yesterday. We have to be very aware of those two.”
On Maryland’s Regular Season
“We know we face an opponent that is very solid in all three phases of the game. They had one of the biggest turnarounds in the nation this season, behind only Miami (Ohio). Maryland was plus six in wins from a year ago and finished tied for third in the ACC. They have done a great job.
“We’re very excited about going to the Military Bowl and coaching right now. A lot coaches are strictly recruiting and a lot of players are not worrying about another game. Here at East Carolina, our coaches are preparing for a bowl game and our players are preparing for exams and another game. We are looking forward to the challenge.”
On The Impact Of Attitude In Bowl Games
“This is my 14th bowl game and I learned a long time ago that to be chosen to play in one is an honor. I know the number of bowl games has grown from 20 to 30 to 35 now. When you notice it is when you’re not chosen. I’ve been in that situation, but fortunately not in the last 12 years.
“Attitude is the whole key. From the first second, our players were excited. We knew we had obtained bowl eligibility, but to be chosen for a bowl game is something our kids were excited about. If you could have seen them when we told them we had been chosen for the Military Bowl, they were so pumped. The fact the game is in D.C., only four hours from here, and a drivable trip was exciting. You could see the smiles on their faces, especially the seniors, but the young guys, too.
“The younger guys feel like they let the seniors down a little bit that last game. They were excited to have another game and opportunity. For us, attitude is always a key. Our kids and coaches are excited. By the ticket sales, our fans are, too.”
On The Progress The Program Has Made During This First Year
“When we came in, we knew we had the foundation set for a winning mentality. We knew there would be some development that would have to occur. We had our own offensive, defensive and special teams philosophies. I also had my own philosophies of what pillars and foundations I wanted to build the program on. All that was new.
“Some guys didn’t want to be a part of it, but the rest of the group did. To have a group of men who bonded, cared and took us under their wings, I am so pleased by that.
“We came in and one of the first things I said was, ‘Let’s build this thing on trust, commitment and caring.’ There is trust between player and coach and coach and player, commitment to the mission statement and cause and also caring about one another. This group that is here has been great. I feel good about that progress.
“Of course as a coach you would like to win every game. That’s just the competitive side of it. But at the same time, when you sit back and look at the entire body of work, it’s impressive. We lost three big-time defensive guys for the year. We had to bring in a quarterback who had not worked with [offensive coordinator] Lincoln Riley until August 6. We had to find running backs from guys who had played sparingly. We had one starting receiver coming back in Dwayne. We had other guys who had been on special teams a bit, but that was it. Defensively, we had to find three new linebackers and four new linemen. We had to find a new punter and kicker on special teams.
“You look at that and then say we did some special things. We’re pleased with where we are. The chance to play in a post-season game is fantastic. It gives us the chance to play another football game and keep preparing.
“One of the things you miss in athletics is the camaraderie and spending time with the staff. That bond makes is stronger. This bowl game gives us a chance to hang out more.”
On What’s Most Important About Playing In A Bowl Game
“Winning the game is number one and the extra practice time number two. We’re going to Washington, D.C., to do one thing and that’s to win the football game. We’ll enjoy the bowl festivities and events, but we are preparing with our entire thought process to win a football game.
“Secondly, the practices give you the opportunity to work more with young guys who were redshirted or young guys without a lot of playing time. We can spend a lot of time actually coaching and helping develop those guys. The post season is very important to both win the football game and develop those kids.”
On The Desire To Win The Military Bowl
“It starts for me and works its way down through command influence. I plan on winning and the coaches do, too. The players are working toward it. We know we have a tough contest with Maryland. It is a really good football team. We know we’ll have to be at our top level. The only thing we can worry about is our preparation and how we work.
“There are three things in the post season. You have exams, off time and bowl activities. The secret is to divide it so you have great focus during football time. That’s something we’ve preached to them from minute one after the bowl was announced. During exam time, you have to focus on exams. During football time, you have to focus on football. That’ll be a key. The kids have been great about that so far.
“I like our preparation so far. This is a big week for us. I’m looking forward into getting into more team concepts. There won’t be older and younger practices this week. We’ll go back to regular-season types of practice.”
On The Injuries
“I think Dominique has come along very well. He’ll be ready to go. Dwayne and Josh have had a lot of bumps and bruises, but they’re feeling better. The guys who were out for the year are still out. Those guys won’t be back. Everybody else should be set.”
On Josh Jordan
“Josh Jordan came and talked to us and he’ll be transferring. He wants to play quarterback and he’ll go to McNeese State. It was a tough decision for him, but I understood where he was coming from. Josh met with Lincoln and [inside receivers coach] Donnie Kirkpatrick.
“Josh won’t be here. He made the decision. We hate to see him go. We didn’t want to lose him. He made a great point and said, ‘Coach I want to play and there are some good guys in front of me.’”
On Playing Four ACC Schools This Season
“You look at the state of North Carolina and there are five FBS schools competing on the field and for recruits. As a player, most of the time I knew many of the other in-state recruits. We played against each other in high school and met each other on recruiting trips. To compete against each other in college made the games that much bigger. Here we play one of the toughest schedules in the country. I’m excited about that.”
On Changes To The Offensive Line
“The biggest thing is always trying to work and make sure you get the best group out there that you can. Lincoln, Brandon and the offense have a plan. You try to make sure you get the best unit out there you can. That group is one that I think has done a great job for the offense. One of the spots you worry about when installing an offense is the protection part. Those guys have done a great job with that.”
On The Bowl System
“I dislike nothing about the bowl system. The bowls need to be in place. We get to reward our office and coaching staff. Our staff is full of field house rats. They practically live in the office and definitely put in the hours. The bowls are there to not only reward the players, but the staff and fans, too. The fans get to go enjoy each other for another game.
“The rewards clearly outweigh any kind of negatives. A playoff system would be great, as long as the bowl system does not go away. The bowls are put in place and need to stay there. Every team works hard and prepares in the off season. The bowls are a reward for those who become bowl eligible. I would be totally against throwing the bowls away.
“If you want to finish the bowl cycle with a top four I’d be in agreement with that. The bowls need to be in place; they’re one of the best things we do.”
On Preparing To Play Michigan State A Year Ago
“At this time last year, all of us were preparing to play Michigan State. Everything was going alright until we got to the bowl site. There we got the word we would be taking over the team. It was one of the most challenging times in our lives. But it was also one of the most rewarding times. The weeks that followed were up and down.
“Then we had a chance to gather up again here in Greenville and for me to come back home. Those guys have been great. You know how I feel about them. I couldn’t ask for a better group or staff. Our staff works and prepares as hard as any I’ve been around, from Clemson on forward.
“From that time on it has been a blessing. This doesn’t happen by accident, though. It has happened for a reason. The reason is not ours. I’m very blessed to have the opportunity to be here.”
On Not Over-Coaching With The Extended Off Time
“If this was my first bowl game, I’d probably be a little concerned about it. But this is my 14th. There is a fine line between keeping guys fresh and sharp. Bowl practices are an accumulation of success we’ve had. We keep track of everything here. Lincoln, [offensive staff assistant] Landon [Hoefer] and [defensive coordinator] Brian Mitchell keep all of our bowl preparation from where we’ve been.
“There is a happy medium. You have to give them time for exams and, at the same time, blend in strength and conditioning to keep them in shape. You also have to keep the old guys sharp and fresh. We have to give the players a chance to heal, but also take advantage of the days to prepare young guys for the future. I think we have a pretty good handle on it, though.”
On Having Christmas During The Bowl Trip
“I have been a part of that twice. We played in the Holiday Bowl against Cal and the Insight.com bowl versus Minnesota. We’ll arrive and go to the practice facility on the 24th and have a workout. We’ll have the kids find out where they dress, where they shower, where they get taped, where the practice fields are and where their drill sites will be. That’ll be the day we also go over team rules and what the procedures will be of the bowl.
“We’ll have Christmas dinner together. Antonio has a great meal set up for us. We’ll also have gifts for the kids from the NCAA allowance of bowl gifts. We’ll hang out and enjoy each other’s company. To be somewhere at Christmas time is pretty good. That means we’re doing pretty good.”
On Preseason Predictions
“There are expectations outside the building and within the building. We expect a lot out of ourselves. We knew we worked hard and our kids worked hard. The kids came in and worked so hard. I saw and heard some predictions. Some expectations had us with two or three wins. After losing the great guys we did like Patrick Pinkney, the four NFL-bound defensive linemen, the three linebackers and Dominique Lindsay, everything was in place for a slip. There were reasons for those low opinions.
“Within the building, the opinions were very high. We had expectations for ourselves and for the team. I’m very pleased with what happened and what we accomplished. We also know we can keep improve on it. We plan on improving.”
On The Defensive Injuries And Players Lost
“You have some guys who got nicked and bruised and were lost for the year. You lost three of our most talented guys. No excuses, though. I know the coaching staff knows that. The coaching staff worked their butts off. In recruiting they’re doing the same thing. I have a lot of confidence in the defensive staff. They’ve done a really good job developing the guys we have. Our jobs now are to keep developing the guys we have and mix in the new recruits.”
“I’ve been on defense my whole life. There is a lot of pride in that defense. Having been in coaching for a while, I also know there has to be some wisdom and patience in there.
“When I went to our NFL pro day last year, I saw 28 teams there watching those guys running. I saw Linval Joseph, Scotty Robinson, C.J. Wilson and so many more. That’s a pretty good group.
“At the same time, I have to have some wisdom and patience. We’ll be there. I have no doubt in my mind. I’m looking forward to that development. I have a lot of confidence the development will happen in a big way. That’s a fact.”