GREENVILLE, N.C. — Fifth-year ECU coach Ruffin McNeill hosted reporters for an afternoon luncheon Thursday ahead of the Pirates' Birmingham Bowl matchup with Florida.
Here is the complete transcription from head coach Ruffin McNeill
’s bowl luncheon press conference Thursday.
“We’re beginning our bowl week right here. We began bowl prep on Saturday after giving the boys a couple days off. We have what we call bowl-prep practices. An example is the first part where we focus on the older guys and get them sharp, crispy snap reps - Everything is controlled exactly. The guys know they are getting 15 snaps here, 15 snaps there and then stop. The latter part of the practice is focused on developing the young guys, and the older guys (and the coaching staff) coach them. When we first began, everyone was a little rusty because we got away from it.
“Our seniors not only (made) the blueprint and set the mold, but also set the standard to be held for years to come. They have a resiliency about them. They have what I call a lion’s heart about them. They have bravery about them that not many people do. They understand adversity. When we got here, we had lost the most lettermen in the country. There were some lumps early, but a lot of you were here my first day when I said we were not going to microwave this. We were going to build it brick-by-brick and not for a season, but for seasons. That group has made that possible.
“The staff, I am blessed to coach with. I have not been around better people or men. They take care of me. We talk about an acronym A.B.C., which means ‘Avoid Bad Company.’ I tell the guys to surround themselves with people who encourage, direct and lead, not your ‘yes’ guys, but guys who have your best interests in hand. It’s indescribable what my staff does for me and allows me to do things. I’m blessed. They take so much off of me.
“Now we get into preparing for this next challenge. The coaching staff has been exploring Florida. We have not exposed the team to any game plan. We will begin that officially on Saturday. The first bowl practice is geared toward developing their toolbox, fundamentals and things they need to improve on individually, group-wise and team-wise. As of Saturday, we will be totally into Florida and getting ready for that game on January 3rd. Birmingham is going to be exciting.
“A group of us flew down for a press conference last Thursday, and it’s going to be first class. That bowl is one of the legendary bowls. Legion Field has hosted a lot of great teams, great players and great coaches. The city is excited about having us. They understand how we travel. We were one of the leading attendance programs in the country. They know the support of our fan base. The first day, we will explore the facilities, learn the meeting rooms go to our practice facility where each team is on Monday the 29th. And then, we are going to Bear Bryant Museum. Nick (Saban) is allowing us to see their facilities and give us a chance to see a national championship-type facility, we will eat together as a team and then begin game week.
“Right now, Florida is going through a change. I know D.J. Durkin and have since he was a football player. I’ve been where D.J. has been. All of the guys at Texas Tech were there with me when I went through that. The interim tag is different. I found out the day we were going to our bowl and go to our hotel rooms. That was when I found out I was going to be the interim coach. I know he will have those guys ready to go. Like always, we only worry about ourselves and what we can control. We can control how we prepare and this bowl prep has been great.
“I’ve known Will Muschamp
for a long, long time. They have a very talented football team: fast, length and athletic. We know that. Because of the changeover, there might be a little disarray, but from watching the film, those guys have a lot of pride. When you talk about them, you talk about their defense and it’s very good. They’re allowing 21 points per game, which is 24th in the country and they are ninth in yards per game. Up front, they are very athletic and they have a lot of speed on the back end – a typical SEC-type defense. One of their top players is Dante Fowler
, who can move around a little bit at outside linebacker and defensive end. He has a really great skillset with him. One name that is familiar with a lot of people is Vernon Hargreaves
III. He’s a good player, too. He came to a game last year and I told him he should have come to play for us. I look forward to seeing Vernon (dad) down there, who is my fraternity brother.
“Offensively, Treon Harris
is a quarterback who is listed as one of the SEC’s top newcomers this year. He’s a dual-threat that can run and he has gotten better as the season has gone. I watch each game –offense and defense – and I’m at the Alabama game now and I can see he’s improving. Running back Matt Jones is a very good football player with size, speed and strength. We know, offensively and defensively, we have to be ready to make sure we execute and come with the right mindset, which I have no doubt our guys will.
“On special teams, they have the top returner in the history of Florida. He is a really skilled, skilled player. Andre Debose is a guy who we have to make sure we corral. We’ve faced a lot of top returners and I think we had a streak this season of facing three of the top returners in the country.
“It’s exciting now. As we get closer to practice, it’s almost like spring practice for the old guys. We’re looking forward to diving into preparation Saturday with the boys and going to Birmingham.”
On The Program’s Opportunity To Play Against And Have A Chance To Beat A Name-Brand Program:
“I have always felt that going to bowls is very important. My dad always told me, ‘If you’re practicing when it’s cold, you’re doing pretty good.’ We are practicing when it’s cold right now. Florida has a great tradition and conference, but playing another game with these guys, I adore them, so to have the opportunity to hang out with them for the next two weeks, I’m going to treasure every second of it. Playing a storied program like Florida is very good for us.”
On Wide Receiver Trevon Brown’s Status:
“We are working him in functionally right now. He is doing functional exercises. He is raring to go. We have to put the reins on that boy because he’s ready to go. He began doing functional exercises with Coach Connors yesterday. Hopefully we will work him in, and maybe by this weekend, we will be able to give him some work.”
On What It Would Mean To The Offense To Have Trevon Brown Back:
“With our focus on the vision and the team, we have had guys step up in Trevon’s absence, but adding Trevon back, it gives Shane (Carden), Lincoln (Riley) and our offense another weapon. He is a great kid. I love that kid. He was happy to get back. Trevon was disappointed because he couldn’t get into the last game and help the seniors win. Here is freshman, who is mad at himself for being hurt because he couldn’t help the team win. He’s the real deal, not for the ability, but for the team part. He is a good kid to be around.”
On What It Is Like To Go Into A Game As An Interim Coach:
“In our case, we (Texas Tech) had been there 10 years. Before that game, any coach that took over for the staff that won the game, was awarded the head job. As a staff, we felt that if we get it done, we will be here. I found out right after we arrived at the bowl and 30 minutes before I met with the team. It was a little bit different, but because we had been together and been through a lot as a staff, the verification of trust had been established.
“D.J. knew for a few weeks (ahead of time). That week was hectic for me because I found out and at 3:30, there were 100-plus reporters at practice. It was like paparazzi because of how it went down with Mike (Leach). The kids were the key. We knew we were ready to go because of the respect of our staff to our players and our players to our staff. It’s the same here. This staff is dangerous when you tell them they can’t do something. It might have been the most challenging week for me as a coach, but it was the most rewarding. It was one of the toughest weeks, but then the next week, it was one of the greatest times when I came here. It was a four-week span of challenge, reward, lows and coming back home.”
--------- Injury Report ---------
QUESTIONABLE — SS Lamar Ivey (right wrist), WR Trevon Brown (left knee),
OUT –DB Cody Purdie (right wrist)
---------- Depth Chart --------------
Outside Wide Reciever (X): Cam Worthy (Reserves: Terrell Green)
Inside Wide Receiver (H): Isaiah Jones
(Reserves: Quay Johnson, Cedric Thompson)
Left Tackle: Ike Harris (Reserves: Stewart Hinson)
Left Guard: Quincy McKinney (Reserves: Tre Robertson)
Center: Taylor Hudson (Reserves: C.J. Struyk)
Right Guard: J.T Boyd (Reserves: Tre Robertson)
Right Tackle: Tre Robertson (Reserves: Dontae Levingston)
Quarterback: Shane Carden
(Reserves: Kurt Benkert
Running Back: Breon Allen
OR Chris Hairston
OR Marquez Grayson
Inside Wide Receiver: Justin Hardy
(Reserves: Bryce Williams
Outside Wide Receiver: Davon Grayson
(Reserves: Jimmy Williams
, Brandon Bishop)
Defensive End: Johnathan White OR Terry Biles
Nose Tackle: Terry Williams
(Reserves: Demetri McGill OR K’Hadree Hooker)
Defensive End: Chrishon Rose
(Reserves: Fred Presley, K’Hadree Hooker)
Outside (SAM) Linebacker: Montese Overton
(Reserves: Dayon Pratt)
Inside (MIKE) Linebacker: Zeek Bigger
(Reserves: Cameron White OR Joe Carter)
Inside (BUCK) Linebacker: Brandon Williams (Reserves: Ray Tillman)
Outside (WILL) Linebacker: Maurice Falls
(Reserves: Joe Allely, Jake Geary)
Field Cornerback: Josh Hawkins
(Reserves: DaShaun Amos, Rocco Scarfone)
Strong Safety: Terrell Richardson OR Lamar Ivey (Reserves: Bobby Fulp)
Free Safety: Domonique Lennon (Reserves: Travon Simmons)
Boundary Cornerback: Detric Allen
(Reserves: Dashawn Benton)
Placekicker: Warren Harvey
(Reserves: Davis Plowman)
Holder: Worth Gregory (Reserves: Isaiah Jones)
Punter: Worth Gregory (Reserves: Davis Plowman)
Snapper: Charlie Coggins and Colton Oliver
Punt returner: Justin Hardy (Reserves: Quay Johnson)
Kickoff returner: Isaiah Jones (Reserves: Davon Grayson)