Former ECU football coach McNeill hired by Oklahoma

Ruffin McNeill gave Lincoln Riley his first big break in the coaching profession. Wednesday, the newly hired Oklahoma coach returned the favor by adding his former mentor to his staff with the Sooners

Rob Goldberg Jr.—ECU photo
Ruffin McNeill was Lincoln Riley's boss when they were at ECU. Wednesday

Ruffin McNeill gave Lincoln Riley his first big coaching break by naming him East Carolina’s offensive coordinator at the tender age of 26. It was a show of faith Riley has never forgotten. Wednesday, the newly named Oklahoma head coach returned the favor by hiring his old mentor as the Sooners’ assistant head coach and defensive tackles coach, “I’m very excited that Ruffin McNeill is joining our coaching staff,” Riley, who took over after Bob Stoops retired last week, said in a statement. “Personally, I have a great history with him from our time together at Texas Tech and East Carolina. We’re getting an extremely high-quality person and coach. Our team and fans will love the personality and energy he’ll bring to our program.” McNeill was a member of the Texas Tech staff during Riley’s playing career as a walkon quarterback for the Red Raiders. The two eventually became colleagues when Riley was hired as an assistant by coach Mike Leach. McNeill was so impressed with Riley’s knowledge of Leach’s Air Raid Offense that he brought the rising young star with him to ECU in 2010. During their five seasons together, McNeill and Riley virtually rewrote the school record books while going to four bowl games. Riley left the Pirates to become Oklahoma’s offensive coordinator following the 2014 season. McNeill was fired a year later after compiling a 42-34 record. He spent last year working with the defensive line at Virginia under new coach Bronco Mendenhall. It’s a job he said he enjoyed. But the opportunity to be reunited with Riley was one he couldn’t pass up. “Now having a chance to work for Lincoln, it’s a proud moment for me because I’m very proud of Lincoln,” McNeill said. “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.” As much as Mendenall will miss McNeill, especially because of his recruiting relationships in the talent-rich Tidewater areas, he said he understands his now-former assistant’s decision to leave. “Ruffin McNeill is one of the best people, not only in the world of coaching, but also in the world, period,” Mendenhall said. “I’ve really enjoyed his friendship, the exchange of ideas and the camaraderie that we’ve had together. Ruff has amazing relationships with anyone he’s met. He’s got a great football mind. I am appreciative of all the work he put in helping us to begin to make Virginia an excellent football program.” Despite his long history with Riley, McNeill’s addition to the Oklahoma staff is hardly a courtesy hire. The 58-year-old Lumberton native boasts a resume that includes tenures as an assistant at Clemson, Austin Peay, North Alabama, Appalachian State, UNLV, Fresno State and Texas Tech in addition to his six seasons as head coach at his alma mater ECU. “I’ve been at every level and have done it a lot of different ways,” McNeill told “I’ve been fortunate to work with great people. I’ve had the big-picture view of a head coach, I’ve been a defensive coordinator and I’ve been a special teams coordinator, so I think I have some things I bring to the table. I absolutely love coaching the players. I love that part. I’m excited to do that here. Can’t wait to get on the field, get in the meeting rooms, talk strategy, talk life. “I treat the players like they’re my sons. Not just my particular group, but the entire team. I’m looking forward to building those relationships here at OU.”