New Oklahoma football coach Lincoln Riley has kept most of his coaching staff intact after taking over the program following Bob Stoops’ retirement in June. However, Riley did bring in one big name from his past: Ruffin McNeill.
Riley was the offensive coordinator under McNeill at East Carolina for five years before Stoops hired him. About a week after taking over in Norman, Riley hired McNeill to coach defensive tackles.
Before taking over at ECU, McNeill spent 10 years as a defensive assistant for Mike Leach at Texas Tech. He joins current defensive line coach Calvin Thibodeaux, who will focus on defensive ends. Already, players feel like there are improvements.
“Coach Ruffin is a great football mind,” edge rusher Ogbonnia Okoronkwo said. “He’s really been working with the interior D-line and teaching them a lot of new stuff. Him focusing on the interior D-line helped coach Thibodeaux focus on the edge, which is a plus for our defense.”
McNeill is a highly touted defensive mind. During his two-year tenure as defensive coordinator at Texas Tech, the Red Raiders moved from worst in the Big 12 to among the best in many defensive categories.
“I actually got a chance to talk to [McNeill] 1-on-1,” cornerback Jordan Thomas said. “He seems like a great guy with a lot of potential to do great things at this university.”
In addition to being an accomplished coach, McNeill has earned a reputation as a classic football guy.
“I told [McNeill] word-for-word if there’s anything I can do for you as a player, I’ll do it if you take care of me on the back end,” Thomas said. “I saw a little sparkle in his eyes and a smirk on his face and I knew we were in business.”
McNeill, 58, reached tremendous heights while coaching at East Carolina. The Pirates won 26 games from 2012-14, including a 2012 Conference USA title. After one down season, 5-7 in 2015, ECU let him go, perhaps unfairly. He spent the 2016 season as a defensive line coach at Virginia.
Now the Sooners are excited to see what he can bring to Oklahoma’s football program.
“He sort of has the same style as Coach Riley,” Okoronkwo said. “He’s a big family guy, he really respects hard work, that’s just the culture he’s bringing. It’s a breath of fresh air on the defense for the defensive linemen to be working in different ways.
“We really like the addition to the coaching staff.”