McNeill To Guide East Carolina Football
Jan. 21, 2010
Pirate Nation Welcomes Home Ruffin McNeill
GREENVILLE, N.C. - Former Pirate defensive back and assistant coach Ruffin McNeill is back home.
McNeill, who starred as a four-year letterman in the late 1970s and most recently served on the Texas Tech staff for the last 10 seasons, has been appointed head football coach at East Carolina University according to an announcement from director of athletics Terry Holland. With his hiring, McNeill becomes ECU's 20th head football coach in the school's history and he will be introduced to the media at an 11:00 a.m. press conference Friday.
The Executive Committee of the ECU Board of Trustees, acting for the full board, approved the appointment of McNeill and the outline of his contract in a conference call meeting Thursday afternoon. The board will consider McNeill's contract at a regular meeting next month.
"Coach McNeill's interview revealed his strong commitment to doing things the right way and his love of coaching young men to grow in every part of their lives. " Holland said. "His excitement for what ECU Football can become in the future was contagious and his deep and abiding appreciation for what East Carolina University has meant to him and his family was truly moving.
"There is no doubt about his ability to lead ECU Football to new heights and his determination to guarantee that happens under his watch," Holland added. "He intends to bring new and exciting offensive schemes to Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium, combined with an aggressive defense that will be designed to get the ball back in the offense's hands."
McNeill concluded his 24th overall season at the collegiate level as Texas Tech's interim head coach by rallying the No. 21 Red Raiders to a 41-31 victory over Michigan State at the Valero Alamo Bowl Jan. 2 after the dismissal of Mike Leach. In addition to helping the program complete the year with nine triumphs, McNeill's steady hand was responsible for Texas Tech's first season-ending three-game winning streak since 1995.
The 2009 campaign marked his 10th season as a member of Leach's staff and second full year as the defensive coordinator. He served the final nine games of 2007 in that role on an interim basis, before taking over officially in 2008. McNeill, who also coached the linebackers, was regarded as one of the most versatile coaches on the staff and also one of the most beloved by the Red Raider football team.
Seen as a father figure by those within the program, McNeill was credited with promoting a family-type atmosphere, while at the same time providing disciplined instruction on the field.
His stamp on the Red Raider defense was apparent in 2008 as the unit helped lead Texas Tech to one of the most memorable seasons in school history. The defense ranked fifth in the Big 12 Conference in total defense, fourth in scoring defense and third in pass defense. The rush defense improved from the previous season by 37 yards per game.
The defense totaled 34 sacks on the season to rank among the Big 12's top three. Tech's push up the middle not only aided in the unit's ability to stop the run, but also contributed to the disruption of the some of the conference's more potent offenses. Colby Whitlock's safety against Texas early in the first half set the tone for the rest of the game as Tech handed the No. 1 Longhorns a 39-33 defeat. Other players made similar plays throughout the season, enabling the unit to get Tech's high-powered offense back onto the field for its record-setting scoring season.
In just nine games as the defensive coordinator in 2007, McNeil helped the unit make an overnight transition that paid dividends for the program. While the Red Raiders finished third overall in the Big 12 in total defense, they finished first when factoring in only the final nine games of the season for each league institution. The secondary defended its title as the league's top pass defense, while numbers in other areas also improved dramatically.
The Texas Tech defensive unit has steadily improved each of the last four seasons - no season more evident than 2007. Led by the men up front to the guys in the back, the Red Raiders' defense assisted in Tech's 26 sacks to its 10 interceptions.
McNeill's defensive tackles in 2007 were among the best in the league, including the play of true freshman Whitlock at nose tackle. Whitlock had 8.5 tackles for loss and two sacks while earning first-team Freshman All-America honors.
McNeill's leadership as special teams coordinator until 2008 took the unit to a new level. Known as the "Little Engine that Could," current New England Patriot Wes Welker set NCAA records in career punt returns, punt return yards and punt returns for touchdowns.
Placekicker Alex Trlica set NCAA records for career PATs made without a miss (233) and is Tech's all-time scoring leader for a kicker (371), ranking third on the all-time scoring list. Former punter Alex Reyes set a Tech career punt average record with 43.3 yards per punt in 2006, passing former Tech and Chicago Bear great Maury Buford.
A cause of a great deal of frustration for opposing punt return units, the Red Raider punting team allowed only 120 punt return yards, a 222-yard improvement from 2005.
A charter member of Leach's initial coaching staff in 2000, McNeill began his career at Texas Tech as linebackers coach during the 2000-02 seasons, before taking over defensive tackles and special teams duties in 2003.
Under his tutelage, middle linebacker Lawrence Flugence rose to national prominence, setting an NCAA record with 193 tackles in 2002. A seventh-round NFL Draft pick in 2005, current Baltimore Ravens linebacker Mike Smith honed his skills under McNeill during his first two seasons, earning a starting nod midway through his freshman campaign. John Saldi also found success as he kicked off his career as the Defensive MVP of the Tangerine Bowl during his freshman season in 2002.
McNeill began his coaching career as a defensive coach at Lumberton (N.C.) High School from 1980-84, before taking his first collegiate position as a graduate assistant coaching linebackers at Clemson during the 1985-86 seasons. The Tigers won the Atlantic Coast Conference title in 1986 and advanced to the Gator Bowl, a year after appearing in the Independence Bowl.
Following one-year stints at Austin Peay State and North Alabama as linebackers coach, McNeill spent three seasons on the mountain at Appalachian State, where the team won the Southern Conference title in 1991. In his first tour of duty at ASU, the school appeared in the NCAA Division I-AA playoffs each season. He returned to the Boone, N.C., program after a year as defensive line coach at his alma mater, East Carolina, in 1992. As defensive coordinator at Appalachian State from 1993-96, the team won the 1995 Southern Conference title and competed in the NCAA Division I-AA playoffs at the conclusion of the 1994-96 regular seasons.
McNeill tapped the professional ranks for experience, working as a summer intern with the Miami Dolphins in 1996. From there he went to UNLV in 1997 and 1998 as defensive coordinator both seasons and assistant head coach in 1998.
A four-year letterwinner at East Carolina from 1976-80, McNeill was a three-year starter at defensive back and was the team captain for two seasons. He helped lead ECU to the Southern Conference Championship in 1976 and an Independence Bowl berth in 1978 - the school's first in what is recognized as the modern era. He graduated from East Carolina in 1980 and received a master's degree in counseling from Clemson in 1987.
McNeill, 51, and his wife, Erlene, have two daughters, Olivia (19) and Renata (29). Olivia is a sophomore at Appalachian State.
McNeill directly succeeds Skip Holtz, who accepted the top football coaching position at South Florida Jan. 14.