Following the Second Battle of Bull Run, the estimable Gen. Fitz John Porter was relieved of command and court-martialed for his failure to initiate a suicidal attack that, had it been carried out, would most likely have doomed the Union Army of Virginia - it had not yet been pessimistically restricted to only Northern Virginia in its nomenclature - from utter destruction at the hands of Pete Longstreet and his Corps.
In short, a general who had performed ably and with distinction at Malvern Hill and Gaines Mill and who was ordered to his own destruction by an ill-informed, vindictive superior was summarily sacked.
Which brings us to Greenville, North Carolina, and the campus of East Carolina University.
ECU made news this offseason when they sacked their successful-beyond-all-comprehension football coach Ruffin McNeill after a down season wherein he managed to coax a 5-7 record out of a roster so depleted by injuries and graduation that it made Pickett’s Brigade post-Gettysburg look well stocked. Henceforth, the Pirates will be under the command of first time head coach Scottie Montgomery, who comes to Greenville from the legendary football powerhouse that is Duke. Montgomery was the offensive under David Cutcliffe at Kyrzyzewski University, which meant that he got a lot of work in because Duke’s defense couldn’t stop a Widespread Panic sing-a-long, let alone another team’s offense, but the firing of McNeill was still met with widespread opprobrium. This was due to a)the immense respect and admiration McNeill (now employed under Bronco Mendenhall at Virginia) had earned, and b)the move was largely seen as a power play by Jeff Compher, who has something of a track record for blowing coaches out the door when he takes a new job. To be fair. Compher did tell players about the firing of their beloved coach via text message, and walked out on a meeting with those same players when they expressed their displeasure. One can only assume that at some point he will inevitably hire Randy Edsall, as the two of them seem made for each other.
East Carolina, for those who’ve never traveled below the Mason-Dixon Line, is not in fact its own state, nor has it ever been. It exists as a university in rough parallel to Western Carolina, which is to say legislators stuck a large university at either side of the state in hopes of balancing the concentration of bad football clustered around the Raleigh-Durham area, and then forgot about it because it was basketball season. Indeed, things got so bad at one point that NC State reportedly had to be threatened with action by the state legislature to ensure that they kept playing ECU, in large part due to the fact that ECU beat the Wolfpack often enough for it to get embarrassing.
The Pirates flaunt a purple and yellow color scheme, which makes sense for pirates in roughly the same way that having an elephant as a mascot for a team named after an algal infestation does. It’s rumored the first time the pirate Blackbeard - caught and killed in North Carolina not so far from ECU’s campus - saw his men dressed in East Carolina colors to go a-pirating, he promptly threw them overboard.
ECU is currently a member of the American Athletic Conference, or “AAC”, which roughly equates to the sound an athletic director makes when he realizes he’s on the hook for sending the fencing team on annual trips to Storrs, North Philly and Cincinnati every year for the foreseeable future. It had previously been part of Conference USA, that unwieldy amalgamation designed largely for purposes of scraping together bowl affiliations in holiday destinations like Shreveport. ECU then spent most of their tenure in CUSA openly campaigning to get picked up for the Big East, which somehow failed to notice the charms of the coastal Carolina television market. In 2014, the Pirates finally got asked to join the shambling zombie roster of the AAC, and this happy marriage lasted until late July, when Compher began campaigning for the Big XII to pick up ECU with the grace and subtlety of a drunken moose attempting to mount a Volkswagen Beetle for purposes of carnal indecency. This increasingly awkward display of athletic burlesque will no doubt continue until the Big XII inevitably picked BYU and Cincinnati/Houston/Memphis (Pick One), having realized that sending the swim team from Waco to Greenville on a bi-annual basis is a trek roughly equivalent to Porter’s escape down the Red River in 1864. But at least for a brief shining moment, ECU got its name in the papers for being ridiculously optimistic, as opposed to foolish and cruel to a beloved alumnus.
Now it is entirely possible that Compher’s plan will somehow work out. That under their new coach and a year removed from the loss of their best players, the Pirates will rise again to feast on the bones of whatever’s left of the AAC after the Big XII gets done with them. It is also possible that they will return to the halcyon days of former coaches such as Pat Dye, Steve Logan and, yes, Ruffin McNeill, wherein they occasionally beat the Miamis of the world and stomped NC State and UNC on a semi-regular basis. It is even possible that Bob Bowlsby will in fact lose his mind and add ECU to the Big XII.
It is also possible that in hindsight, critics will decree Sylvester Stallone to have been the 20th Century’s finest male thespian. I judge the odds to be roughly equal.
SHERMAN’S NEXT TARGET: UCONN