Prior to Oklahoma, Lincoln Riley’s first coordinator position was at East Carolina University, where took on play calling duties under mentor Ruffin McNeill. Both McNeill and Riley had departed Texas Tech following the 2009 season, when Mike Leach was dismissed following the Adam James / Craig James controversy. As with most coaching changes, incoming coach Tommy Tuberville brought his own staff, and McNeill and Riley, who had served as interim coach and OC for Tech’s bowl victory, were looking for jobs.
The search didn’t take long, as McNeill was quickly hired as heach coach at his alma mater for the 2010 season, and even more quickly called in young Riley to serve as Offensive Coordinator.
As Brandon Sneed discusses in his book Sooner: The Making of a Football Coach, Riley’s time at ECU didn’t come without its own challenges. With OU going through one of the teams more difficult starts in years, currently sitting at 2-2. Readers will find it interesting to see how Riley dealt with setbacks while at East Carolina, and how he might deal with challenges in this 2020 season.
Below is an excerpt from an interview with Brandon, where we discussed Riley’s time at ECU, as well as life as a fan in Greenville, and how the bar scene compares to Norman. Read the full interview here.
Prior to McNeill and Riley’s arrival:
ECU had had some success right before Lincoln and Ruffin McNeill got there, and had won a couple of conference championships. But even then it was, and this is what I love about Greenville, is even then the fans are complaining, ‘well, the games are still kind of boring though’. It was just an old school kind of grind-it-out style of offense that Skip Holtz, the coach, implemented. That’s how he believed in controlling a football game was by controlling the clock, and Lincoln and Ruffin came in and they said, we’re going to have fun. We’re going to throw the ball over the place. It’s gonna be a great time.
And that’s absolutely what they did. It was really, really fun watching that team and just watching the fans. To me, it was just as much fun watching the fans be as happy as they were that the team was actually like living up to their love for it. You know? Because the fans here, they just, they love the team, and it was cool to watch the team actually be able to give them what they had wanted for a long time.
On passionate fans and inconsistent play:
So ECU has struggled to get, I think the best way to put it is it struggles to get the kind of talent that reflects the passion that its fans have for it. There’s always a ton of passion in Greenville for Pirate football, and the team, it’ll have these moments where it beat teams they have no business beating and they look freaking great. And then they go play a more mid level team and they just struggle. So they were always just kind of up and down like that.
Life as a Greenville resident, fan and student:
I was a student at ECU when he was an offensive coordinator there. I was going to those games as a student. I grew up in Greenville and so I was pretty familiar with Pirate football, which had always been something the town always really got hyped about, but they were also never consistently very good. I mean, that sounds harsh, but they just, you have the Tar Heels right up the road, and Wake Forest and NC State. Wake Forest, maybe not as much, but especially Carolina and State. They tend to attract a lot more football talent naturally to them over the years, at least that was my impression growing up.
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It’s an awesome little town, man. I just feel like everybody here feels kind of overlooked. Like I say in the book, it’s right between the beach and the Triangle, Raleigh Durham. So it’s just an easy place to blow by if you don’t know much about it. But it’s an awesome little town.
Tailgating in Greenville vs Norman:
In Norman, there’s a lot of tailgating, but the energy is just different. It’s a weird thing to try to articulate, but it was like, ‘all right, here’s what we’ll do, and the real party is when the game starts.’ Whereas in Greenville it’s like, ‘no, the party is the party and the game is part of the party’. That’s how it feels in Greenville, at least to me, that’s just me. I ran that by a few friends around here, and yeah, that’s pretty much right.
Signature Scene and Drink in Greenville, à la The Mont / Swirl:
The first one that comes to mind is the bar that has been voted the best college sports bar in the country for like two years in a row at Barstool Sports is Sup Dogs in downtown Greenville. They make great hot dogs and some great drinks. The downtown Greenville scene has actually come up a decent bit in recent years with some of the different businesses coming through. There’s this group called Uptown Greenville that is working hard to try to bring in good restaurants and good entertainment and bars and breweries and things like that. There’s a couple breweries downtown that are cool. I don’t know if there’s singular, The Swirl at the Mont situation, though I’ll come back to that if something comes to mind.