On Wednesday, Lincoln Riley hired a new defensive line coach to fill the opening on Oklahoma’s staff created by his promotion to head honcho. So what, right?
The fact that the new staff member is Ruffin McNeill actually is a pretty big deal. Frankly, adding a coach of his caliber to the staff less than three months before the start of the season offers one of the best indications yet that Riley is ready for his run as the Sooners’ CEO.
Let me count the ways:
*McNeill more than proved himself as a head coach at East Carolina.
As Bartoo notes, the Pirates consistently punched above their weight on McNeill’s watch from 2010 to 2015. He compiled a 42-34 overall record in six seasons, which included two wins each over North Carolina, North Carolina State and Virginia Tech. He accomplished all of that with little NFL-caliber talent to speak of.
Even though Riley hired McNeill as a position coach at OU, success as a head coach, especially at a mid-major school like ECU, speaks well of what the new addition brings to the table.
*McNeill had pretty good results as a coordinator, too.
Ian Boyd wrote a complimentary piece today about McNeill’s schemes as Texas Tech’s defensive coordinator for the better part of three seasons under Mike Leach. I can’t say that I’ve done a deep dive into the X’s-and-O’s, but I can point to the stats to make a case that he knows what he’s doing.
For the three years in which McNeill ran Tech’s defense from 2007 to 2009, the Red Raiders saw their overall defensive efficiency rating as measured by Defensive S&P+ make sustainable improvements from the previous two seasons when Lyle Setencich was still in charge. Moreover, Tech’s D essentially flatlined after McNeill left at the end of the ‘09. (To be fair, the entire coaching staff changed as well following Leach’s dismissal.)
Note that in the six-year period (2004 to 2009) in which Tech’s recruiting classes synch up with McNeill’s stint as coordinator, the Red Raiders signed a total of seven blue-chip defensive recruits, per Rivals. Again, it looks like he got his players to outperform their talent, and they did it against the same flavor of spread-heavy schemes that OU face now in the Big 12.
*Riley’s assistants have a combined 13 years of head coaching experience.
Obviously, the biggest knocks on hiring Riley are that he is just 33 and has never been a head coach before. Whether or not Riley believes that is a deficiency, he now has two assistants with that experience in McNeill and Mike Stoops who can advise him.
Sure, McNeill and Stoops aren’t destined for the Hall of Fame. They do have an idea of what the demands of the job are like and a sense of the problems that could pop up from day to day.
That sounds like a major plus for a rookie coach, and it’s magnified by the close relationship that already exists between McNeill and Riley.
*McNeill just seems like a really good dude.
Look, I’m as skeptical of college football coaches as anyone. But I don’t think I’ve ever been more convinced of a coach’s sincerity than when I’ve observed McNeill. He is genuine, and his dedication to his players is undeniable.
As a friend of mine who’s familiar with the coaching community in the Mid-Atlantic told me about McNeill: “He's a stabilizing figure and a true professional. He is exceptionally well-liked, and that's earned by him.”
I could make my point by lining up a smorgasbord of tweets from across the college football world on Wednesday congratulating McNeill on his new job. I think his introductory press conference at ECU speaks for itself.