For the second time in five days, Oklahoma is losing an assistant coach.
Former defensive coordinator and outside linebackers coach Ruffin McNeill announced Thursday that he will temporarily step away from football to help care for his aging father.
McNeill, 61, has been one of OU head coach Lincoln Riley’s closest mentors.
McNeill hired Riley in 2010 as East Carolina’s offensive coordinator when he got the head coaching job at his alma mater, and Riley returned the favor when he was promoted to head coach at Oklahoma in 2017, making McNeill his first hire to coach defensive tackles.
Midway through the 2018 season, when Riley had to fire Mike Stoops as defensive coordinator, McNeill was promoted to interim defensive coordinator. Insiders say McNeill didn’t want the coordinator job when he first got to OU, and didn’t want it on a full-time basis after Stoops left, but did it as a favor to Riley on an interim basis for the final eight games of 2018.
McNeill and Riley worked on Mike Leach’s staff at Texas Tech from 2003-2009. McNeill was a Red Raiders defensive assistant when Riley was a walk-on quarterback in 2002.
McNeill emphasized in an OU press release that he’s not retiring from coaching and he hopes to return to the game when the time is right.
“This was one of the hardest decisions I’ve had to make,” McNeill said. “But in the end, being near my dad was a necessary choice. Right now I need to be a son again and I need to help my brother and other family members take care of my dad, who is battling significant health issues. This is not retirement for me. I still want to coach in some form or fashion. But right now that can’t be the case. My focus needs to be on my dad back in North Carolina.”
Said Riley, “Ruffin means so much to me and to my family, and his family means so much to him. I know his decision to leave OU was a very difficult one, but was one he felt he had to make.
“We go back a long, long way. Hard to believe we’ve been together 15 of the last 17 years. I certainly owe him for helping shape me as a football coach, but I’ll always be more appreciative of the impact he had on shaping me as a person. He’s as genuine as it gets. I’m incredibly grateful for his mentorship and friendship, and for everything he’s done for me and my family. We wish him, his wife Erlene and their family the best of luck as they return home.”
Five days ago, running backs coach and special teams coordinator Jay Boulware announced he was leaving to be an assistant at his alma mater, Texas. Boulware’s annual salary was increased to $470,000 last January.
McNeill also got a raise last year to $575,000.
“The word ‘fantastic’ does not begin to describe my three years at OU working for Lincoln and this administration,” McNeill said. “And I need to include the fans, as well. They’ve been absolutely wonderful. And it’s more than football. It’s family. Lincoln and (his wife) Caitlin and their kids are family to me. All of the football staff and players here are family to me. These three years have been among the best of my life.
“I absolutely loved working for (defensive coordinator) Alex Grinch and with the other coaches. I absolutely loved all my players here. The championships were great and the playoff appearances were great, but the relationships were greater. That’s what I’ll miss about OU the most. I loved where I worked and I loved the people I worked for. And not one day felt like work. Not a day.”
Formerly co-host of “Further Review” and “The Franchise Drive,” columnist John E. Hoover is a college football insider on The Franchise in Oklahoma City and Tulsa. 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. Hoover co-hosts The Franchise “Inside OU” Podcast with Brady Trantham and Rufus Alexander, and the Locked oN Sooners podcast on the Locked oN Podcast Network. He also covers the Big 12 for Sporting News and Lindy’s magazine and is a feature writer for Sooner Spectator magazine. Visit his YouTube channel at YouTube.com/c/JohnHoover, and his personal page at johnehoover.com.