The Lincoln Riley Era is rolling along, fast as heck but under control, like two wild ponies pulling a schooner.
Riley was named head coach last week for the retiring Bob Stoops, then on Tuesday flipped a major Oklahoma high school commit (Putnam City defensive end Ron Tatum) from Texas, and then today made a home run hire to fill the staff opening, bringing on one-time mentor and former East Carolina head coach Ruffin McNeill as his defensive line coach and assistant head coach.
It’s a brilliant hire by Riley, and one that eventually may address Mike Stoops’ long-term future in Norman. Riley said he’s “very excited” to bring in McNeill.
”Personally, I have a great history with him from our time together at Texas Tech and East Carolina,” Riley said in a university press release. “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.
“Ruffin possesses a distinguished record defensively, and I’m excited to see him work alongside defensive coordinator Mike Stoops and the rest of our staff on that side of the ball. I view the defensive line as one of the most important — if not the most important — position groups on the field, and he’ll be a big benefit to our student-athletes and to our program as a whole.”
McNeill will coach defensive tackles (Calvin Thibodeaux will coach ends) as he serves as assistant head coach. Receivers coach Cale Gundy also holds the title of assistant head coach.
Mike Stoops, who followed his brother as a player at Iowa, worked under him at Kansas State and has been Bob Stoops’ defensive coordinator for 10 years in Norman, currently has the title of associate head coach at OU. It would seem natural that with his brother now in retirement and a proven defensive mind like McNeill on staff, Mike Stoops could move on at the end of the 2017 season.
McNeill, 58, played defensive back at East Carolina before returning as the Pirates’ head coach from 2010-2015. He also was a defensive assistant at Texas Tech from 2000-09, including the Red Raiders’ defensive coordinator in 2008-09. He has been a defensive coordinator at five schools, and after being fired from his alma mater, he spent last season coaching defensive line at Virginia.
“I’ve been at every level and have done it a lot of different ways,” McNeill said in the release. “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. That’s what I’ve always been known for; being a hard worker and a team guy. I believe it’s team and family first, last and always. Lincoln and his wife, Caitlin, are family to me. I’ve known him since he was 18 years old when he was a freshman at Texas Tech.”
Like any new head coach, Riley already has begun populating his staff with familiar faces, and in McNeill, he has a mentor for whom he was offensive coordinator for five seasons at ECU.
“Ruffin brings a ton of experience to the defensive side of the ball, he’s very familiar with our league because of his time at Texas Tech and his knowledge will help us keep expanding what we’re doing,” Mike Stoops said in the release. “I’ve seen his work from afar and from coaching against him, and I appreciate his work ethic and the way he goes about his business. He’s a great person as well. He’ll be a great addition to our staff and I’m excited to work with him.”
Columnist John E. Hoover is co-host of “Further Review with Hoover & Rew” and can be heard every weekday on The Franchise in Tulsa from noon to 3 p.m. with co-host Lauren Rew. In Oklahoma City, catch him Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday mornings at 10:25 and every Friday afternoon at 4:05. Listen at fm107.7 in OKC, fm107.9/am1270 in Tulsa, on The Franchise app, or click the “Listen” tab on The Franchise home page. Visit his personal page at johnehoover.com.