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McNeill leaves Hawks, hopes to soar with Pirates

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New coach Kim McNeill, left, talks to a crowd as she is flanked by East Carolina women's basketball players during Friday's news conference.

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BY RONNIE WOODWARD
The Daily Reflector

Friday, March 29, 2019

It was not easy for Kim McNeill to leave the University of Hartford, the school where she earned her first women’s basketball head coaching job in 2016.

She had her Hawks thriving on the court and in the community, but she saw great potential in East Carolina, she said.

ECU introduced McNeill as its new women’s basketball coach on Friday afternoon. McNeill talked about her desire for a family atmosphere and stability with the Pirates, who saw longtime coach Heather Macy resign amid controversy last October. ECU was led by two interim coaches for the season.

McNeill has roots in this region as a former assistant coach at Virginia, Richmond and James Madison, and she had emotional meetings with players at Hartford this week before officially leaving for the Pirates.

“I wasn’t going to leave Hartford for just anything,” she said. “We were building something special there, but I also feel like we can build something very special here as well.”

ECU athletics director Jon Gilbert said McNeill signed a five-year deal worth a total of $335,000 annually.

McNeill, a Bassett, Va., native, was at a Hartford program that won 11 games the season before she took over and guided it to three straight winning seasons, highlighted by this year’s 23-11 record and spot in the Women’s National Invitational Tournament. ECU hasn’t made the postseason since a WNIT bid in 2015.

Her hire was not officially coined Friday as a package deal, with her husband, Cory, but Cory was at Friday’s news conference along with other family members and is likely to soon join the Pirates’ coaching staff. He was Kim’s associate head coach at Hartford.

“He is just a (basketball) junkie and a student of the game, and without him, a lot of the success that we had at Hartford would not have been possible,” Kim said of her husband. “I will have sit-down meetings with (former ECU staffers), but I also had an unbelievable staff (at Hartford) and we had developed a trust and a loyalty and belief in our system. I want to surround myself with people who care about these student-athletes as much as I do.”

ECU’s men’s coach, Joe Dooley, finished his first season on March 14 in his return to leading the Pirates.

This is Gilbert’s second coaching hire in his first year as AD of the Pirates. He brought in successful football coach Mike Houston from James Madison in December.

“One of things that (players) mentioned to me was someone who had a family and family atmosphere, and that was really important to them,” Gilbert said of this hire. “I do think we certainly checked the box, in that regard.”

Staff and roster turnover was part of the Macy tenure, which saw her and her fiery and passionate style help her rise to the top as the Pirates’ all-time winningest coach with a 134-117 record from 2010-18.

Macy resigned last preseason amid an internal review led by the ECU athletics’ office of compliance, however, leading first to Chad Killinger serving as interim head coach and then Nicole Mealing taking over the lead role in December.

Before introducing McNeill, Gilbert lauded Mealing for her work during difficult times.

Gilbert then said the fine details of McNeill’s exit from Hartford made an impression on him.

“I knew I had the right person when I talked to Kim yesterday afternoon, and she talked extensively about the conversations she had with her players and how emotional they were about her departure,” Gilbert said.

ECU started its most recent season by winning nine of its first 11 games under Killinger, including beating Wake Forest from the Atlantic Coast Conference, but he had to step away for health reasons, and the team had a rough stretch to begin its American Athletic Conference schedule.

Led by Mealing, a former video coordinator under Macy, the team won three of its final four games to finish with a 16-15 record for the second straight year.

“I think the season showed that we have resiliency and what we can be made of,” Pirate player Raven Johnson said.

Contact Ronnie Woodward at rwoodward@reflector.com, 252-329-9592 and follow @RonnieW11 on Twitter.

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