WASHINGTON DUKE INN/DURHAM Ruffin McNeill is heading into his first season as football coach at East Carolina.

UNC coach Butch Davis
  • UNC coach Butch Davis

And at his debut at the annual Pigskin Preview sponsored by the newly christened Bill Dooley Triangle/ East Chapter of the National Football Foundation and College Hall of Fame, McNeill said it’s been a “whirlwind” ever since he took the job.

But at least for him, it has been a good whirlwind.

“You think Ruffin would like to trade whirlwinds?” UNC coach Butch Davis quipped in front of the packed banquet hall, in which Duke coach David Cutcliffe, N.C. Central’s Mose Rison and N.C. State’s Tom O’Brien were the other featured speakers.

Davis has been dealing with a big mess over the past two weeks, first with a marijuana-related arrest of star linebacker Quan Sturdivant on July 10 followed quickly by the news that the program was under NCAA scrutiny for possible rules violations with players talking to sports agents.

Since the news of the NCAA inquiry the UNC athletics department has avoided much comment, and Davis stuck with the script on Thursday while a throng of about 30 news media members peppered him with questions after the luncheon.

“As I said in the banquet the NCAA has told us not to make any comments until this review is over with, and so as disappointed as I think a lot of you are going to be unfortunately I’m not going to be able to answer those kinds of questions,” Davis said. “Anything that leads to speculation would have no point to it today.

“The only things I can say is basically what I had said earlier, that the NCAA did come on campus, they are going through a review as everybody here can attest to the fact that it’s spreading significantly at different other institutions around the country. And that they’re going to work as fast and as quickly as possible to try to come to some kind of resolution. … This certainly came out of left field, and I don’t think anybody speculated that this was going to happen.”

Davis said things were simpler regarding contact between student-athletes and agents before an NCAA rules change made the issue a little fuzzier.

“Having been in college football and the NFL, and having seen this from the standpoint of 10-12-15 years ago when the process excluded agents until the completion of eligibility made it completely a black-and-white issue, (during) all my time as an assistant at Oklahoma State, Miami as an assistant coach and Miami as a head coach, agents were the one single thing that was crossing the line,” Davis said. “When the NCAA changed the rules to allow agents to visit players 18 months before the end of their eligibility or before their graduation, it’s made everybody in America’s job significantly tougher.”

Organization gets two new names
The chapter had two changes in its official name since last year. One was to honor Dooley, the former UNC, Wake Forest and Virginia Tech coach who built winning programs at all three schools. The other, the “Triangle/East” part, was done to recognize the addition of ECU to the membership, making the chapter the largest in the South.

Auction gone wild
The chapter has traditionally held an auction of autographed helmets of the participating schools. This time, if it had happened in a different order it might have raised $10,000.
After the NCCU helmet went for $500, new N.C. State athletics director Debbie Yow took the competition out of its old context by bidding $1,500 for the Wolfpack helmet. The Duke helmet went for $3,000, followed by the ECU helmet for $3,100 and the UNC one for $1,500.

Sweet home, Alabama …

Durham will get more national attention than usual for a football game on Sept. 18 when Duke hosts Alabama at Wallace Wade Stadium.
But Casey Steinbacher, President of the Greater Durham Chamber of Commerce, said she isn’t expecting a spike in hotel occupancy that weekend.
“A lot of Alabama residents are going to be coming here in what we call RVs and they call home,” Steinbacher said.
Cutcliffe, an Alabama graduate, referred back to the comment when he got a leading question on the game from master of ceremonies Don Shea.
“Casey made them mad and you’re trying to make them madder,” Cutcliffe said. “Unless both of you have some defensive linemen in your back pocket, I suggest you hush up.”

They said it …
Cutcliffe: It’s been a big, big summer in Durham for me. I finally got it, I got my Sam’s card. And my gosh they are selling diapers really cheap over there, and formula. We’ve got the youngest football team I’ve ever seen, with 54 freshmen and sophomores out of our 82 scholarship players, so the diapers came in handy. … We’re going to be an exciting team. We’re a little faster. I just don’t know where we’re going.”

McNeill: “I went to (ECU’s spring) pro day and there were 28 NFL teams there and I said ‘Good God, almighty!’ I’m going to try to change some names on jerseys or something.
My daddy has been talking to me every day with questions and answers. I’m looking forward to going to practice every day and getting away from him.”

O’Brien: (Quarterback) Russell (Wilson) was on a seven-hour bus ride to Boise, Idaho, yesterday (as a member of the Northwest League’s Tri-City Dust Devils.) He was furiously texting and obviously bored to tears, and talking about his eagerness and anticipation in getting back here. But he was excited to get a chance to see the blue turf.”

Rison: “When I get some free time I like to get the barbecue going. That’s what I do best (away from football). But if you ask my wife right now she’d say I can’t cook.”