The ECU Pirates are a very proud football program. While all of the other schools in North Carolina long for basketball season, ECU is first and foremost a football school, with basketball little more than an afterthought.
The Pirates fan base is loyal and loud in supporting their team. ECU averages close to 50,000 in attendance for their home games, placing them second in attendance among non-AQ teams. (Only BYU averages more, and BYU isn't even really a fair comparison, as they are usually close to the top 25 in attendance.)
Even when the team isn't doing so great, the fans still show up, as evidenced by the fact that over 50,000 were in the stands earlier this season to watch an 0-2 Pirates squad take on lowly UAB.
However, the team did not reward the fans' faith in them this season, finishing 5-7 and failing to become bowl-eligible.
In his two seasons as head coach of the Pirates, Ruffin McNeill has managed only an 11-14 record. At many non-AQ schools, that would be acceptable for a new coach's first two seasons.
ECU is not like most non-AQ schools, however. Pirate Football is much more similar to AQ schools than it is non-AQ schools in terms of quality and expectations.
Prior to McNeill's arrival in Greenville, the Pirates had spent their previous four seasons winning the Conference USA title twice, and finishing as the runners-up twice.
The Pirates had also managed to pull off some major upsets, defeating highly-ranked West Virginia and Virginia Tech teams, as well as winning the Hawaii Bowl over Boise State, who was only one season removed from their legendary Fiesta Bowl victory.
Those days seem like a distant memory for Pirates fans, as the team currently wallows in mediocrity. ECU football isn't bad by any stretch of the imagination, but they aren't real great either. Decent just doesn't cut it at ECU.
Which is why Coach McNeill's job isn't completely safe right now. The school has to determine if McNeill can once again make the Pirates "great," or if "decent" results are all he can produce.
It's a tricky question, and one that doesn't really have a clear answer.
It's not as if McNeill is a bad fit for the program or just doesn't understand ECU football—he is an ECU man through and through and played on the football team there back in the '70s. He knows full well what the program is capable of and what the expectations for him are.
However, it is questionable as to whether or not McNeill can get those results that he is aiming for. Despite having the incredibly talented Dominique Davis as his quarterback, McNeill has been unable to consistently put wins on the stat sheet.
It is rare that a player of Davis' talents and abilities winds up at a non-AQ school (with BYU once again being the main exception here). If McNeill couldn't find consistent success with a team led by someone as good as Dominique Davis, how is he going to make winners out of players with less talent?
While defense has often been the culprit in the Pirates' losses over the last two seasons, the offense has still had its fair share of issues. Earlier this season, the ECU defense managed to hold the stellar Virginia Tech offense to only 17 points, yet the Pirates still lost because the offense mustered only 10 points.
That sort of inconsistency is exactly why Ruffin McNeill may not be guaranteed a third season as head coach of the ECU Pirates.