It’s been a month of banners despite not being a banner month for athletics fans at East Carolina.
A banner spotted in the sky at ECU’s homecoming Saturday featured the message, “We Believe … Go Pirates … Arrgh!!” It was reportedly sponsored by a former Pirate Club president.
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The banner flew overhead before the Pirates defeated BYU, 33-17, to improve to 2-6 overall and 1-3 in the American Athletic Conference heading into a bye week.
The banner was also an apparent response to a campaign calling for Athletic Director Jeff Compher to be fired, which was the topic of a sports story in the local newspaper last week.
The Daily Reflector reported on banners reading “Fire Compher! Go Pirates” – the handiwork of John Bream, an ECU alum who runs “Fire Compher” social media pages. Bream raised nearly $1,200 on a GoFundMe page to fly the slogan ahead of the Sept. 30 game against South Florida. He then personally paid for the banner to return for the Oct. 7 game against Temple.
The timing of the Reflector’s article didn’t sit well with Greenville broadcast executive Henry Hinton, host of the Talk of the Town morning radio show.
“Why would the local paper do that on homecoming day?” Hinton, a former UNC Board of Governors member, asked on Tuesday’s show.
Hinton brought up a proposal he said he first made in a postgame show, to raise funds for a banner reading “Fire Dr. Bream” and fly it over Rowan Medical Center in Salisbury, where Bream is a medical director.
“This guy’s a doctor? I’m proud of the fact that he’s an ECU guy and went on and got his medical degree,” Hinton said. “ … But for crying out loud, you’re a trauma doctor, and this is your priority?”
Bream’s reply to Hinton on the Fire Compher page: “Debate me on your station.”
Hinton said by email Thursday that his comment about flying the banner over Bream’s workplace was tongue-in-cheek – “a karma check for him to see how he would like it.”
“I was calling for rational thought about where the program is and civility along with a halt to the mob mentality,” Hinton said. “I’m not about to debate a guy who can just take swings at anything and everyone without any accountability and zero information about what’s happening in the program. That’s exactly the reason the AD and people at ECU can’t defend themselves. It’s called civility.”
Local news outlets have reported on motives for Bream’s distaste for Compher – including giving the athletic director a 5-year contract extension over the summer, despite underperforming sports teams.
Bream in an interview said the storm began brewing several years ago and intensified with the replacement of Ruffin McNeill as head football coach.
“Nobody agrees with how coach McNeill was fired from ECU, and the fan base has been fractured since then,” Bream said. “And now the extension of the contract (for Compher) was basically the final straw that the fan base has just exploded.”
Bream also approached several companies about displaying the “Fire Compher” message on Greenville-area digital billboards, but said he was turned away by one and told by another that once-available advertising space had been filled.
Hinton said he, too, has concerns about the state of the program, but he said he’s “not going to knee jerk and act crazy about it in mid-season.”
“Let the season play out and let the folks at ECU deal with their issues without pitchforks outside the stadium,” Hinton said.
The Pirates’ second win came just days after Compher pleaded for Pirate Nation to support the football team on homecoming, after notably low attendance at home games earlier in the season.
Compher told WNCT in a statement that any direct response to Bream’s campaign “would offer credibility to a negative attack.”
“Instead, my focus will remain where it always has – on our student-athletes and coaches who represent ECU with pride on and off the field, along with a loyal fan base who provides unconditional support,” Compher told the station. “There is nothing to be gained by negativity other than to acknowledge it is contrary to our purpose.”