Two months ago ECU had just won its second straight Conference USA championship and Pirate Nation joined Skip Holtz and the team on Bagwell field for a championship celebration. Fun was had by all, yo ho yo ho. But now that the college football conference championship weekend was over Pirate fans would also brace for the inevitable speculation that the C-USA Championship victory or the bowl game to come would be Skip Holtz’s last game as East Carolina’s football coach.
About a week or so later all seemed quiet on the eastern front. At the time there just weren’t a lot of high-profile job openings. As soon as we realized Skip’s name was not being mentioned, Skip’s name started getting mentioned. That same week Kansas and Notre Dame were the only BCS jobs remaining, however as we know, it only takes one opening to make the coaching carousel go round and round it went. Brian Kelly of Cincinnati went on to Notre Dame making Cincinnati available. That may of sounded like good news to East Carolina fans given Holtz’s connection to South Bend but that still meant there were two BCS jobs remaining and Cincinatti and Kansas had interest in Skip Holtz. Kansas felt like their fortune was with Buffalo coach Turner Gill and later that day Skip Holtz would become a top candidate along with Central Michigan’s Butch Jones for the Cinci job. While there were conflicting reports about who broke off with whom and who was tapped first, at the end of the day Cinci decided to keep to tradition by intriguing good coaches out of Central Michigan with the Butch Jones hire. Yo ho yo ho the coaching carousel ride was over; Holtz stays in Greenville and it was time to get down to business with preparations for the Liberty Bowl against SEC foe Arkansas.
Enter Shed-gate. Ruffin McNeill got on the college football radar after replacing Mike Leach at Texas Tech. McNeill was named interim coach for the Alamo Bowl after Leach was fired for his role in the Shed-gate scandal. At that time Pirate fans were gearing up for the Liberty Bowl and the Mike Leach saga was nothing more than back-ground noise. There was talk about McNeill and how he was a former Pirate and yeah, Skip’s name was going to get mentioned but it seemed Holtz wasn’t a top candidate. ECU went on to kick away the Liberty Bowl and 10 days later possibilities turn into probabilities, fortunes turn into misfortunes and vise versa depending on your carousel amusement.
Enter the slap in the face. Between Mike Leach’s Shed-gate and South Florida Coach Jim Leavitt’s slap in the face; those stories would shape the things to come forever for ECU football. Tommy Tuberville takes the job at Texas Tech and subsequently released Ruffin McNeill as defensive coordinator. Holtz takes the job in Tampa leaving ECU behind and with national signing day looming, in a bind as time was not on the Pirate’s side. Because of that moment in time current head coaches whom Holland was seeking were committed to their staff and recruits a la Rick Stockstill. So the search was back on, the clock was ticking and Pirate Nation waited. Terry Holland did his due diligence and called on one of East Carolina’s own, bringing home Ruffin McNeill making him his choice just like McNeill’s destiny would have it.
Welcome home Coach Ruffin “Mac” McNeill. Good luck and Go Pirates!