FILE - In this Nov. 28, 2015, file photo, East Carolina head coach Ruffin McNeill ends the season with a loss to Cincinnati, at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium in Greenville N.C. East Carolina fired coach Ruffin McNeill after six seasons, athletic director Jeff Com
AP Photo
December 04, 2015

GREENVILLE, N.C. (AP) East Carolina fired coach Ruffin McNeill after six seasons, with athletic director Jeff Compher saying Friday the program ''was not meeting competitive expectations.''

Compher said at a news conference Friday afternoon that he made the decision earlier this week to part with the former Pirates defensive back, saying he ''did not expect it to be a popular one'' with fans.

''In my opinion, the trajectory of the program was not going in the right direction,'' Compher said.

The Pirates finished 5-7 this season - their first losing season since 2011 - and landed in fifth place in the American Athletic Conference's East Division with a 3-5 record. They ended the season with a 19-16 home loss to Cincinnati last weekend.

McNeill - who played for East Carolina under Pat Dye in the late 1970s - was 42-34 at his alma mater with one bowl victory with the Pirates. He took them to three straight bowls from 2012-14 but never reached a championship game in either Conference USA or the American.

His contract runs through June 2018. He signed a three-year extension before the 2013 season, and Compher said he will receive about a $1 million. Compher said McNeill wasn't asked to make any staff changes before the decision.

''I know many people were shocked by this,'' Compher said. ''I felt like we needed to make this decision now and not wait a year and potentially be faced with the same situation.''

McNeill, 57, took over in 2010 after Skip Holtz left for South Florida, and after serving as Texas Tech's interim coach in the 2009 Alamo Bowl.

East Carolina went 10-3 in 2013, then spent five weeks in the Top 25 in 2014 behind the combination of quarterback Shane Carden, receiver Justin Hardy and offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley. Carden set the school's career passing yardage record and Hardy became the NCAA's record-holder for receptions.

The Pirates also had wins against Atlantic Coast Conference programs North Carolina (twice), North Carolina State and Virginia Tech over that two-year span.

But when those two players graduated and Riley went to Oklahoma as offensive coordinator, East Carolina took a step back this year. They lost starting quarterback Kurt Benkert to a preseason knee injury and lost four games by seven or fewer points, including a 31-24 loss on the road to eventual SEC East Division champion Florida.

They stumbled down the stretch, dropping four of their last five after a 4-3 start, including a 10-point home defeat to nationally ranked Temple - a game they led with less than 4 minutes to play - and a 22-17 loss to South Florida.

The last straw came in last week's loss to Cincinnati. East Carolina led 10-0 but lost 20-17 on a last-second field goal - leading to the announcement of McNeill being fired six days later.

Compher promised a national search for McNeill's replacement.

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