FRISCO, Texas — Ahead of Lincoln Riley’s debut season as head coach of the Oklahoma football team, there is a certain level of comfort surrounding the Sooners’ young leader.
The 33-year-old took over the program on June 7 after Bob Stoops announced his retirement. A week later, Riley hired his former mentor in Lumberton native Ruffin McNeill.
When asked about his transition into his first gig as a head coach at Big 12 media days on Monday, Riley spoke highly of McNeill, who will serve as the assistant head coach and defensive tackles coach under Riley.
“We have a ton of history, a lot of trust built up,” said Riley, who was the offensive coordinator for five seasons under McNeill at ECU. “And then I think it just fit, too, within our staff and that (McNeill) and (defensive coordinator) Mike (Stoops) get along together great and have very similar philosophies in a lot of ways.
“I have always felt like the defensive line is one of the most critical, if not the most critical position in football. So to be able to pair him up with (defensive ends coach) Calvin Thibodeaux and form what we believe is one of the best D-line combinations in the country, it just made sense on so many levels. To add a coach of his caliber was perfect.”
McNeill and Riley also shared time together as assistant coaches at Texas Tech. McNeill ended the 2009 season as the Red Raiders’ interim head coach, rallying the squad to a 41-31 victory over Michigan State in the Valero Alamo Bowl with Riley making his debut as the offensive coordinator.
McNeill, 58, moves to Norman from the University of Virginia, where he spent one season as the assistant head coach to Bronco Mendenhall and the defensive line coach.
“Having a chance to work for Lincoln, it’s a proud moment for me because I’m very proud of Lincoln,” McNeill told Soonersports.com. “It’s an exciting moment as well. I’ve been in coaching a long time and I’m very honored to be joining the Oklahoma family. There’s obviously outstanding tradition here and I got to know Coach (Barry) Switzer very, very well. I’m extremely excited.”
In six seasons at his alma mater in Greenville, McNeill was 42-34, including a 30-18 conference mark and one bowl victory in four bowl berths. In 2013, McNeill led the Pirates to a 10-3 record, including a 37-20 win against Ohio in the Beef O’Brady’s Bowl.
A standout at Lumberton High School who played football for ECU under Pat Dye from 1976-79, McNeill took over at ECU in 2010. The 2015 campaign was McNeill’s 30th year at the collegiate level, which included an earlier stop at ECU as the Pirates’ defensive line coach in 1992.
Rodd Baxley can be reached at 910-416-5182. Follow him on Twitter @RoddBaxley.