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By Nathan Summers

Monday, December 3, 2012

Ruffin McNeill had known for weeks his football team would play in a bowl game, but perhaps the reality hadn’t truly hit the third-year East Carolina coach until he was able to fix on an opponent and a setting.

When he learned it will be a fellow 8-4 team, the Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin’ Cajuns, lining up against his team in the New Orleans Bowl on Dec. 22, McNeill seemed relieved and suddenly more aware of how much he missed the postseason after not being a part of it last season.

“All bowl games are exciting to me. I haven’t been in them in a while,” McNeill said on Sunday evening, confirming that the exchange of game films between the Pirates and Cajuns was already under way. “Not going to one last year makes you really excited.”

Like everyone connected to the Pirates, McNeill watched Saturday’s Conference USA championship game to learn who and where the Pirates would play. Tulsa’s overtime victory over UCF cemented ECU’s New Orleans bowl destination.

With those details finalized, now the Pirates will focus on the importance of getting the team’s first bowl win since the 2007 Hawaii Bowl.

“It’s always good for a program. To be able to win carries over into the offseason, the momentum,” McNeill said. “It helps with momentum in recruiting, it gives us great exposure and it’s always good to end on a winning note.”

Following today’s regular academic day, the team returns to full active duty Tuesday after having spent the last week away from the field. According to McNeill, it was a valuable week for schoolwork, strength and conditioning and healing injuries.

Big East buzz

With little direct contact between coaches and players since the Pirates’ win over Marshall on Nov. 23, McNeill said he hadn’t addressed his players about ECU football’s invitation to the Big East for the 2014 season, but planned to at a 6 p.m. meeting.

The announcement last week was understandably met with happiness by McNeill.

“I’m excited about it, and I think it’s great not just for football but for our entire athletic program,” he said. “I think it will benefit all sports. I’m looking forward to the competition, even though a lot of it will be similar to Conference USA. It will be great for recruiting. It will expand our base.”

McNeill spent much of last week on the recruiting trail, and he said the news of ECU’s Big East move was on the minds of many players he visited.

Holtz fired

The man who steered the Pirates to consecutive C-USA championships before leaving for South Florida was shown the pink slip by the Bulls on Sunday.

Skip Holtz capped a forgettable 3-9 season with Saturday’s blowout loss to Pitt, and the former ECU coaching great was let go by USF the following day.

“I just heard about Skip and that’s tough,” said McNeill, Holtz’s replacement at ECU back in 2010. “One thing that some people tend to forget is that it’s not just Skip. There are about nine other coaches and their families and wives and children, and support people and their wives and children, and the players. They have to adjust, so there are a lot of things that go into it when you make a change or an adjustment like that.”

Contact Nathan Summers at nsummers@reflector.com or 252-329-9595.

via The Daily Reflector.

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