When former Pirate defensive back and assistant coach Ruffin McNeill came home four years ago, the return offered a promise of renewed Purple and Gold passion.
Not to mention, plenty of excitement with a plethora of points on offense, a resurgency on the defense side of the ball and more bowl destinations as well.
McNeill, who starred as a four-year letterman in the late 1970s, was appointed East Carolina's 20th head football coach on January 21, 2010 after completing a 10-year stay at Texas Tech.
The Lumberton native has delivered on those pledges during his initial four campaigns, which also marked his 25th, 26th, 27th and 28th overall seasons coaching at the collegiate level.
After initially rewriting the school's offensive record books in 2010 and consistently adding more entries each following year, McNeill's efforts on the recruiting trail, dedicated off-season commitment and family approach resulted in a competitive balance that allowed the Pirates to post their second-highest single-season win total in school history last fall.
Equally as impressive as ECU's 10-3 overall mark and 37-20 Beef 'O' Brady's Bowl win over Ohio in 2013 was the Pirates' first-ever same-season sweep of in-state Atlantic Coast Conference opponents North Carolina and NC State after posting convincing 55-31 and 42-28 triumphs over the Tar Heels and Wolfpack, respectively. McNeill's squad broke or matched 52 individual and team single-game, single-season and career standards, while both sides of the ball ranked among the Top 15 nationally in 12 statistical categories.
During his initial season in 2010, the self-described football "lifer" guided East Carolina to six wins and qualification for a bowl game, despite inheriting a program which lost 34 lettermen off the previous year's squad - the most of any FBS program in America. Capacity crowds at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium were also treated to a thrilling, high-scoring and prolific spread offensive scheme which literally enjoyed a record-breaking campaign - shattering or at least matching 29 team or individual standards.
McNeill orchestrated an impressive defensive turnaround with a newly-implemented 3-4 scheme a year later as ECU allowed 102.5 fewer yards per game in 2011 to improve 64 places on the statistical rankings to finish among the top half of all FBS programs.
McNeill's 2012 edition, young by most standards with 17 juniors and nine sophomores who made starts throughout the season, posted an 8-5 record and owned a share of the C-USA East Division title by matching a program best with a 7-1 league slate. Stuck in the idle position with a 3-3 record in early October, the Pirates used a 42.0 scoring average to close the schedule with triumphs in five of the last six games to earn the school`s sixth post-season appearance in seven years.
His success and leadership abilities at ECU have enabled McNeill to be a three-time recipient of the Fritz Pollard Alliance Foundation's Johnnie L. Cochran, Jr. Salute to Excellence Award for college head coaches, earning the honor in 2011, 2013 and 2014.
Before returning to his alma mater, McNeill concluded the 2009 season as the Red Raiders' interim head coach by rallying No. 21 Texas Tech to a 41-31 victory over Michigan State at the Valero Alamo Bowl Jan. 2 after the dismissal of Mike Leach.
The 2009 campaign was his 10th season as a member of Leach's staff and second full year as the defensive coordinator. He served the final nine games of 2007 in that role on an interim basis, before taking over officially in 2008. McNeill, who also coached the linebackers, was regarded as one of the most versatile coaches on the staff and also one of the most beloved by the Red Raider football team.
His stamp on the Red Raider defense was apparent in 2008 as the unit helped lead Texas Tech to one of the most memorable seasons in school history. The defense ranked fifth in the Big 12 Conference in total defense, fourth in scoring defense and third in pass defense.
McNeill's leadership as special teams coordinator until 2008 also took that unit to a new level. Known as the "Little Engine that Could," current Pro Bowl honoree Wes Welker set NCAA records in career punt returns, punt return yards and punt returns for touchdowns.
A charter member of Leach's initial coaching staff in 2000, McNeill began his career at Texas Tech as linebackers coach during the 2000-02 seasons, before taking over defensive tackles and special teams duties in 2003.
McNeill began his coaching career as a defensive coach at Lumberton (N.C.) High School from 1980-84, before taking his first collegiate position as a graduate assistant coaching linebackers at Clemson during the 1985-86 seasons. The Tigers won the Atlantic Coast Conference title in 1986 and advanced to the Gator Bowl, a year after appearing in the Independence Bowl.
Following one-year stints at Austin Peay State and North Alabama as linebackers coach, McNeill spent three seasons on the mountain at Appalachian State, where the team won the Southern Conference title in 1991. In his first tour of duty at ASU, the school appeared in the NCAA Division I-AA playoffs each season.
He returned to the Boone, N.C., program after a year as defensive line coach at East Carolina, in 1992. As defensive coordinator at Appalachian State from 1993-96, the team won the 1995 Southern Conference title and competed in the NCAA Division I-AA playoffs at the conclusion of the 1994 and 1995 regular seasons.
McNeill tapped the professional ranks for experience, working as a summer intern with the Miami Dolphins in 1996. From there he went to UNLV in 1997 and 1998 as defensive coordinator both seasons and assistant head coach in 1998.
A four-year letterwinner at ECU from 1976-80, McNeill was a three-year starter at defensive back and was the team captain for two seasons. He helped lead the Pirates to the Southern Conference Championship in 1976 and an Independence Bowl berth in 1978 - the school's first in what is recognized as the modern era.
He graduated from East Carolina in 1980 with a bachelor's degree in education and later earned a master's degree in secondary counseling from Clemson in 1987.
McNeill, 55, and his wife, Erlene, have two daughters and a granddaughter. Renata McNeill Petrekin (34) and son-in-law Lincoln Petrekin reside in Coral Gables, Fla., with their daughter Isabella (2), while Olivia McNeill (24) is a teacher at West Forsyth High School who currently lives in Winston-Salem, N.C.