I'm trying to figure out what is heads and what is tails of this story coming out of Greenville, NC. Ruffin McNeill is no longer the head football coach, and I thought I would take a look at the words and actions of their current athletic director, Jeff Compher, to see if there's anything to be seen.
This situation does not make any kind of sense.
But then again maybe it does. Because I don't think that Jeff Compher has any clue what he is doing when it comes to interfering in the proceedings of a football program.
Which is extra befuddling, since the man played football in college.
He has held various executive, associate and assistant athletic directorship positions at a variety of schools, but here are the years, schools, and football program won-loss records of the places he has been:
|NC State||1986 - 1992||52 - 29 - 3||Assistant Athletic Director|
|Vanderbilt||1998 -2000||10 - 23||Associate/Senior Associate Athletic Director|
|Western Carolina||2000 -2004||21 - 24||Athletic Director|
|Washington||2004 -2008||11 - 37||Executive Associate Athletic Director|
|Northern Illinois||2008 - 2013||47 - 20||Athletic Director|
Nothing really amazing there, right? Except that he hasn't been directly responsible for any prolonged success at any school he has been at. He was on Vanderbilt's staff for the "vaunted" Woody Widenhofer era. If you're wondering who the hell that is, you've answered your own question.
He then became athletic director at Western Carolina. One year after giving then head coach Bill Bliel a two-year contract extension, Compher showed him the door. Reports at the time suggested that it was related to a string of disciplinary incidents on the football team including a player being convicted of murder, but that same story reports that Bliel "said he was given no reason for the reassignment."
Regardless of exactly why Bliel was let go - and we can argue about exactly how much of that discipline issue is directly attributable to him - Western Carolina football has been a train wreck ever since. The Catamounts have gone 14-9 in the past two seasons, but their overall record in the 14 seasons since Bliel was let go is 47-109.
After that, he headed to good ole "U-Dub", where he was on staff for the now-infamous Ty Willingham era. We'll just let that sentence speak for itself and move on.
I would assume the Pirates brought him on board because of what he appears to have done for Northern Illinois athletics during the five years he was there before coming to Greenville. However, NIU wound up on the map because of their football program, and their football program was a big success because of Jerry Kill, who was hired on as head football coach the year before Compher took the job.
No, Compher is the guy who hired Dave Doeren to spend two years going 23-4 with Jerry Kill's recruits and then appointed Rod Carey as the successor before leaving to come work at East Carolina. Forgive me if I don't exactly consider him to be a Football Coach Whisperer.
Seriously, no kind of sense.
Or maybe he does, since he was brought on board at East Carolina about six months prior to the Pirates' second season of 10+ wins in the history of their program. Because clearly it's possible to have that kind of influence over an entire athletics program.
Let's talk about that for a second. East Carolina has been playing football since 1932. That's nearly 85 years, and prior to Ruffin McNeill's arrival in 2010, they had won more than nine games exactly once in their entire program's history - in 1991 under Bill Lewis (more well known for not winning at Wyoming or Georgia Tech, either). When Ruffin led this program to a 10-3 record in the 2013 season it was an epic achievement.
In his press conference today, Compher was quoted as saying that ""[o]ur expectation is to win conference championships. Everything we do should be geared toward moving in that direction. Based on my assessment, I did not believe that was the case."
Literally the only way this statement makes sense is if the entirety of Compher's assessment was looking at Ruffin McNeill's record go from 10-3 to 8-5 to 5-7 in three seasons and going "oh no! I have to stop this before it gets worse!"
This is, of course, the most superficial and reactionary response you could possibly have to such a trend. Let's see, what could possibly have happened between 2013 and 2014 to cause ECU to slip by two games.... *thinking*....
Perhaps a shift to a more challenging conference, or having multiple games not fall their way in the final minutes? There was last season's late loss to Cincinnati and the final-play loss to UCF, which meant that they were literally a play away from sharing the second-ever AAC title. Maybe something else happened that could realistically cause them to slide again this season?
Perhaps it was losing the quarterback who rewrote all of your passing records, the wide receiver who broke all of your receiving records, and the offensive coordinator who orchestrated it all? When you factor in all of that, and then the fact that the quarterback who was supposed to take the torch and run with it went down with an injury a week before their first game, it is literally a minor miracle that they finished 63rd in offensive S&P+.
Everyone should be thanking McNeill for creating the kind of continuity and depth of both player talent and coaching skill to weather that kind of personnel turnover, not firing him.
Not. One. Damn. Bit. Of Sense.
Now things have started to snowball for Compher. You know how I just mentioned Kurt Benkert, the guy who was the rightful heir to Shane Carden's throne until his knee defected? Yeah. He's spent most of today retweeting the negative commentary that former East Carolina Pirate players like Justin Hardy, Carden, Chris Johnson and others have been posting to Twitter. That doesn't bode well for things like, say, him not transferring away. Or any other players doing the same.
Compher can talk all he wants about things like wanting to win conference championships - a task that just got much harder with Houston retaining Tom Herman, UCF hiring Scott Frost, Chad Morris and Philip Montgomery at SMU and Tulsa, and so on. This situation is now mirroring the one at Georgia in a lot of ways, but primarily in the sense that Jeff Compher has to absolutely nail this hire or ECU is going to get left in the dust in the American Athletic Conference.
I doubt that he wil, given how he treated McNeill. Compher said in his presser that he "never told [McNeill] that he needed to win the next game or he would be terminated. That is not what we do." Right, you didn't tell him he needed to win to stay employed, but you fired him for not winning. That's not going to look good to prospective hires, no matter how many people you think will be interested in the job.
Losing their very experienced offensive leaders and having Navy join their conference was enough to shift them from just barely the fourth best team in the AAC to easily the sixth or seventh best team in the conference. Given the changes that continue to happen, dropping a perfectly good coach for anyone but the perfect hire will put the Pirates even further behind the eight ball.
Good luck with that one, Jeff. That's @ECUADCompher, everybody. Let him know how you feel.