Ruffin McNeill Talks Gators

GREENVILLE, N.C. — East Carolina football coach Ruffin McNeill met the media Monday to discuss the Pirates' upcoming bowl matchup with Florida.

Here is the complete transcription from head coach Ruffin McNeill’s press conference Monday.

Opening Statement On East Carolina Going To The Birmingham Bowl:

“Birmingham, here we come! I’m excited about going to the Birmingham Bowl. When Coach (Jeff Compher) called yesterday to make it official, it was great news. We’re looking forward to the challenge of playing Florida. I’ve known Will (Muschamp) since my Texas days and before. He’s recruited well. They have a very talented defense and there’s a lot of speed on this team. I had a chance to get some of their film in last night and was able to watch some of it.

“It’s our eighth bowl game here at East Carolina (in last nine years), fourth in five years since I’ve been here. It’s an exciting time for all of us. The players were excited to hear the news when we told them. The staff was excited, they’re on the road recruiting now. We dove into it quickly. The young guys are breaking down the film, coaches will be back Friday evening and we’ll start practice and preparing them on Saturday. With the bowl on January 3, we have a lot of time to get our guys sharp and maybe get some guys back who were banged up. I’ll keep you updated as we go further.

“I’m proud of where we are right now, as a program. I’m excited about it. Florida is going to be tough; they have a lot of talent, a lot of speed. We’ll get more into scheme as we get on to it.”

On The Last Game, A 32-30 Loss To UCF:

“It’s tough for us. It’s tough for me and tough for the seniors. I didn’t sleep from Thursday until today. This team is gaining my respect with how they carry themselves and how hard they work. It was a tremendous game. Watching the film was tough, but seeing our guys fighting back, struggling for three quarters against this team and fighting back and coming back in that fourth quarter was really tremendous.

“I saw Lincoln’s comments today and Lincoln (Riley) is a class act. That’s why I love him. It’s more than just coaching. He’s a class act, but all decisions rest with me. We made the best decisions at that time. I appreciate Lincoln doing that, but after last night when we addressed the team and looking in those boys’ eyes, we’re ready to move on and get ready for Birmingham.

“We’ve got three weeks to get ready for them. It’s a big part of recruiting right now for us. We’re trying to get some guys in for mid-year. It’s a fun time. I’m looking forward to playing one more time for these seniors. I’m looking forward to preparing these seniors and competing against an SEC school, which is on our schedule for next year, as well. I know Mac (Florida head coach Jim McElwain), who got the job and I’ve known Mac for a long time too. I know he’ll be at the game observing and his staff as well.”

On What The Bowl Game Offers And Heading To Birmingham:

“I was excited to get the news and play another game. It’s a chance for these seniors. They’ve really had great careers, and have helped take our program to where we want it to go. There’s always going to be some learning as you climb, but one thing I’ve learned from this team is the resiliency we’ve had this year. We have a ‘Never quit, never die, never out of the fight’ kind of mentality. I like the way the kids came back. They were anxious. I was anxious until I laid eyes on them last night. They were all there ready, ahead of time, eyes ahead. We’ll start preparing on Saturday. They’ll be lifting and doing some things right now, but it’s also close to exam time for them too.”

On Playing A Power 5 Opponent In Florida:

“I think it’s a very big opportunity. First, going to bowls are big for us. I’ve said this before, but I’ve been in this for so long that when you don’t go, you miss them. You’ve got to practice them when it’s cold. When you practice when it’s cold, you know you’ve had a good year. My mom, my angel, would ask if I was coming home for Christmas and I’d say, ‘Mom, if I’m coming home, that’s not a good year for me.’ She asked, ‘What do you mean?’ I said, ‘That means I’m not in a bowl game.’ But, I’m excited about not just going to a bowl game, but getting a chance to play another Power 5 team.”

On The Fan Base And Pirate Nation Traveling To The Birmingham Bowl:

“We always expect Pirate Nation to show up. I’ve always thought we travel well. That’s what makes us an attractive university for a bowl game. Pirate Nation gets another chance to show its support. We had recruits in on official visits and the crowds were unbelievable. That helped seal some deals and that’s a tribute to our fans.”

On Playing At Legion Field And The Possibility Of Playing The Last Game On That Field:

“I know we’re still getting the logistics of when we’re leaving down, but it’ll be good to go down there and play again. I know the bowl has grown. After a meeting yesterday, I know the hotel and all of those things, are going to be first-class and nice like that. We’re looking forward to the preparation, we’re looking forward to playing, and we’re looking forward to going down and playing again. I’m excited about it. I really am. I’m fired up and ready to go.”

On The Final Minute Of Last Week’s Loss To UCF:

“I explained after the game, one, you don’t want any ball exchanges. You don’t want to exchange the ball. You want to take a knee, run the clock out like we did, but you don’t want to risk a kick because this team blocked an extra point earlier. They beat us on a Hail Mary, which doesn’t happen. We’ve had it happen, but it’s very rare. We made the best decisions, as a staff, the decisions rest with me. The communication is always good. I communicate with Rick (Smith), Lincoln (Riley) and Kirk (Doll) during the game. I have the ability to communicate with all three of them. It’s tough.”

On The Bowl Game Allowing ECU Redemption After A Tough Loss

“I think this bowl game is a chance for our seniors to leave on the right foot, the right way. They’ve gained, hopefully, everyone’s respect. Our staff has worked extremely hard this year. Our players have done everything for their career. I think it gives us a chance to play again with this group who, like I’ve said, have earned my respect and I would think they’ve earned Pirate Nation’s respect.”

On Playing On January 3 And Having A Month Between Games:

“For 15 years, we’ve kept every bowl game packet. Lincoln (Riley) and I have a packet for every bowl game scenario. We’ve played the Alamo Bowl closer this time, we played the Gator Bowl versus Virginia, and we had about three that we based our schedules on. This period here is a period to get those nicks and bruises but at the same time, let Coach C (Jeff Connors) get them back in the groove. Saturday, we’ll start.

“We’ve got a method where we have varsity shorts. It’ll be a full practice, but we’ll have varsity shorts and it will be a chance for us to get our young guys out there. It’s a great advantage to go to a bowl game because it’s a chance to be working with the young kids. And we’ve got to plan for that. They’ll be able to get 6-8 possible scrimmages in with young guys. So, we’ll get a chance to develop some of those guys who we redshirt, some of those guys who count on playing, some of the older guys will get some reps too, and hopefully get some guys back from injuries. I love the time we have here.

“As I mentioned before, for recruiting, for our staff, we had planned to go out because we didn’t know which bowl. So we’re going to get together Thursday or Wednesday and we’ll get a full weekend in before the ‘Dead Period.’ For us recruiting-wise, it was big. I’m going to get a chance to go to some places this afternoon, some places on Wednesday and possibly Thursday. It’ll be a chance to get out, see some kids, meet some parents, talk with some moms.”

On The Challenge For Florida Playing Under An Interim Head Coach:

“It’s tough. But those coaches are professionals. They understand the game, they understand the world we have chosen to live in. They’ll have a lot of pride. They’ll know who their next director of the program is. I’m sure Mac (Jim McElwain) will be at the game and I look forward to seeing Mac as well. I know Will (Muschamp) won’t be coaching the game, but I know they’ll come in ready to go. That’s all I’m expecting. They’ll be coming in ready to play another game like we will be. I think both of us, we ended on a tough note, so we’re eager to get back and I know they are too. Scheme-wise, I think most of what they’ve done during the year won’t change. Mac’s not going to install his offense right now. I think they’ll be ready to go. I’m expecting them to be ready to go.”

On The Team’s Future Leaders And How They Took The Loss To UCF:

“It was tough. On defense, Zeek (Bigger), Johnathon White, Montese (Overton), Dayon (Pratt) and Terrell Richardson – all those boys cried. K’Hadree Hooker, Demetri (McGill), those guys took it hard, but they understand the sacrifice needed and what it takes to keep building the program. We’ve gotten better each year. I remember when we first started this thing. You always learn. I’m learning now, after 34 years, still learning. You never stop.

“Offensively, Quincy (McKinney) came in as a first year guy, Kurt Benkert, that’s a tough spot to be in. I’ve seen it, a guy can become impatient. Cody Keith, those guys, J.T. Boyd, Isaiah Jones, Davon Grayson, we were waiting on him to get that groove back, Worth Gregory, the guy came in as a first year, young. A lot of guys who came in and have been around, first-year starters that really have stepped up. At the beginning of the year, we lost a lot of starters, so to have those guys step in and give us opportunities, I thought that was big. And they’ll be back next year. They understand the work ethic needed in the off-season to prepare. We start this week, in fact, the young guys started this morning at 6 a.m., old guys start tomorrow.”

On Florida’s Coordinators Being The Same As They Were At The Start Of The Year:

“Right now they still have the same coordinators from the beginning of the season. Some guys may know they’ll be able to stay with Mac, some may not. So if that’s the case, you may see someone leave or take another job. I haven’t had time to study the staff and who’s there. I know, defensively, the interim, but I haven’t heard if anyone has left yet. You can’t tell. It’s hard to tell right now. It’s that slippery time of year. It could happen today. We’ll begin to study a little bit more as we go. When I’m on the road recruiting, we have a lot of time, with all the technology we have, I’ll be able to watch film on planes because I’ve got the technology to watch and study games in more detail, and I will be doing that this week. All the coaches are, even though they’re recruiting.”

On Recruiting And How Playing Florida In The Birmingham Bowl Will Play A Part:

“One of the things I do when I go into a home is: I, first, address the family atmosphere here. Not just within the football program, and the whole athletics department, but the whole university. It’s not academics first, it’s making sure the environment is right for them. Academics are second. But the first thing we’ll address is making sure that environment is right for that young man. And making sure we bring in people who are enthusiastic, hard working, ambitious, have courage, and are positive. We talk academics, how resources are going to be. How academics is emphasized at the highest level here.

“Then we talk about the football part. We play at the highest level. We played two ACC teams, two SEC teams (our second one coming up) and our conference is one that is going through everything for the first time and you see the difference. The difference is this league. There are some talented teams. It’s a fun league to coach in. They see us, and a lot of kids have seen us, on national TV quite a bit. If you come here, you’re coming to a bowl game. I’ll be your daddy, if you come here, and the coaches will be your uncles. We’re going to push you hard; we’re going to love you harder. You get a chance to get your degree, become a better man, play great football and have the best student-athlete experience possible. How do I know? Because I’ve lived it.”


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