McNeill returns to alma mater as head football coach
Ruffin McNeill speaks following his introduction as ECU head football coach on Jan. 22.
(Jan. 22, 2010)
Former Pirate defensive back and assistant coach Ruffin McNeill is back home at East Carolina University.
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, was welcomed as head football coach Friday, Jan. 22, at a press conference. With his hiring, McNeill becomes ECU's 20th head football coach in the school's history.
“I’m honored, humbled, and excited to become your next football coach,” 51-year-old McNeill said donning a purple “East Carolina Football” hat. “This is a dream come true for an East Carolina boy. This is a my alma mater.”
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 Jan. 21. The board will consider McNeill's contract during its 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."
A native of Lumberton, McNeill told more than 350 people assembled at the Murphy Center Friday that the decision to return to ECU was an easy one for him and his wife, Earlene, who flew into Raleigh-Durham International Airport just days ago. “At the moment the wheels hit the tarmac, both of our hearts just said, ‘We’re home,’” he said.
McNeill emphasized that he would be committed to serving the university, asking himself daily, “What can I do today to make sure I better East Carolina University?”
He also vowed to preserve and create academic excellence. “Again, I’m witness to graduating while playing football,” he said. “It will be done. It will be expected here. If I can do it, everyone can do it.”
“This is a destination job for me. Let’s make that very clear,” he said. He added later, “This is not a stepping stone.”
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. He said Friday that he wants to assure parents that he will treat “their most prized possessions” as he would treat his own.
“That doesn’t mean I’m not going to push them. It doesn’t mean every conversation will be a nice and friendly one, but it will be with love, expectations and demands for myself and them,” he said.
Regarding recruiting future Pirate football players, “We’re going to look for the right players to get on the bus,” he said. “[North Carolina] will always be our primary recruiting area.”
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.
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.
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.
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, 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 letter winner 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 and his wife, Erlene, have two daughters, Renata and Olivia, who is a sophomore at Appalachian State.
McNeill directly succeeds Skip Holtz, who accepted the top football coaching position at South Florida Jan. 14.