A former Pirate defensive back ('80), McNeill returns to his alma mater after 10 seasons at Texas Tech, the last two as Mike Leach's defensive coordinator. He arrives in Greenville with a 1-0 overall record, earning a win over Michigan State in last year's Alamo Bowl as Texas Tech's interim head coach. The Lumberton, N.C. native's staff consists of a blend of Texas Tech (8) and East Carolina (7) personnel, allowing McNeill to maintain the roots of the previous regime while bringing in the familiarity of his decade spent in Lubbock, Tex.
Leach made national headlines with his pass-happy spread offense that helped revolutionize the Big 12 offensive approach. McNeill ensured that style of play would transfer to East Carolina by hiring Leach's protégé, former Texas Tech wide receivers coach Lincoln Riley, as offensive coordinator. Riley, credited with developing Michael Crabtree into the first underclassman to win the prestigious Biletnikoff Award in '07, turns 27 on Sept. 5.
Riley inherits six returning starters from a unit that ranked 67th nationally in total offense (369.4 ypg, 8th C-USA) and 62nd in scoring offense (27.0 ppg, 7th C-USA). Sixth-year quarterback Patrick Pinkney graduated with gray hair after passing for 2,947 yards, 15 TD and 12 INT in '09, opening the door for Boston College transfer Dominique Davis to assume control under center. The schematic change works well with East Carolina's strength at wide receiver in Dwayne Harris (83 catches for 978 yards, 7 TD) and Darryl Freeney (48 catches for 718 yards, 3 TD). The offensive line returns three starters from a squad that ranked 10th nationally in sacks allowed (1.00 pg), but must overcome the losses of All-CUSA performers in center Sean Allen and guard Terence Campbell.
Defensively, McNeill is charged with the unenviable task of replacing seven of his top eight and nine of his top 11 tacklers from '09. Five different Pirate defenders earned first or second-team All-CUSA honors last season, but junior cornerback Emanuel Davis (69 tackles, 12 pbu) is the lone returnee. East Carolina finished the season ranked 71st nationally in total defense (378.3 ypg), but capitalized on the country's ninth-best turnover margin (plus-.79) to hold opponents to 21.9 points per game (36th nationally, 1st C-USA). McNeill will need similar fortunes this fall to prevent opponents from posting huge offensive numbers against his squad.
Quotable: "This is my destination job. Let's get that out front right now. This is not a stepping-stone hop for Ruff. This is where I want to be until you tow me away from here. You'll have to drag me away… This is a dream come true for an East Carolina boy. This is my alma mater. This was an easy sell." – McNeill at his hiring press conference in January
Matchup to Watch: T.J. Yates and the Tar Heel offense will likely have this contest circled after a brutal three-game stretch to start the season. The embattled quarterback completed 19 of his 24 passes for 227 yards and two touchdowns against the Pirates last season, rolling up 433 yards of total offense just one week after squeezing out 268 total yards in a 12-10 win over UConn. The game presents the UNC offense with its best opportunity to post big numbers until William & Mary comes to town on Oct. 30. There may only be a few chances for Yates and Co. to take the pressure off UNC's vaunted defense this fall, so capitalizing on East Carolina's porous defense will be a must.
Remember Me? Emanuel Davis committed to John Bunting's staff at North Carolina on July 17, 2006 after a strong all-around junior season in which the Manteo, N.C. native earned Albemarle Conference Player of the Year honors in football and basketball. The 5-foot-11, 190-pound cornerback had been down to UNC and East Carolina, and the relationships he had built in Greenville paid dividends once Bunting was fired and Butch Davis took over in Chapel Hill. Davis switched his commitment to ECU two weeks before National Signing Day after minimal conversation with the new UNC staff in the previous weeks.
After a red-shirt season in '07, Davis has proven to be a commodity at cornerback for the Pirates, earning freshman All-America honors in '08 and first-team C-USA honors last fall. The red-shirt junior was recently selected to the 2010 preseason C-USA first-team.
2010 Schedule Sept. 5 Tulsa (Sun.) Sept. 11 Memphis Sept. 18 @ Virginia Tech Sept. 25 OPEN DATE Oct. 2 @ North Carolina Oct. 9 @ Southern Miss Oct. 16 N.C. State Oct. 23 Marshall Oct. 30 @ UCF Nov. 6 Navy Nov. 11 @ UAB (Thurs.) Nov. 20 @ Rice Nov. 26 SMU (Fri.)