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East Carolina fires Ruffin McNeill after six seasons

East Carolina head coach Ruffin McNeill ends the

East Carolina head coach Ruffin McNeill ends the season with a loss to Cincinnati on Saturday, Nov. 28, 2015, at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium in Greenville, N.C. Credit: AP / Scott Davis

GREENVILLE, N.C. — East Carolina has fired coach Ruffin McNeill after six seasons, athletic director Jeff Compher said Friday.

Compher said the decision was made “after deliberate evaluation” and that “our expectations are to compete for championships.”

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.

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.

His best year was 2014, when the combination of quarterback Shane Carden, receiver Justin Hardy and offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley helped the Pirates spend five weeks in the Top 25. Carden set the school’s career passing yardage record and Hardy became the NCAA’s record-holder for receptions.

But when those two players graduated and Riley went to Oklahoma as offensive coordinator, East Carolina took a step back this year.

The Pirates 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, saying the goal is “to move expediently” and adding that “I am confident our candidate pool will be deep.”

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