In his 24th season on the collegiate level, assistant head coach Ruffin McNeill enters his 10th season as a member of Mike Leach's staff and second as the defensive coordinator. He served the final nine games of 2007 as defensive coordinator on an interim basis, before taking over officially last season. McNeill, who also coaches the linebackers, is 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 promotes a family-type atmosphere, while at the same time providing disciplined instruction on the field. Many young men have been the beneficiaries of McNeill's presence.
His stamp on the defensive unit was apparent in 2008 as the Red Raider unit helped lead Texas Tech to one of the most memorable seasons in school history. The defense ranked fifth in the Big 12 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 defensive 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. Colby Whitlock's safety against Texas early in the first half set the tone for the rest of the game as Tech handed the No. 1 Longhorns a 39-33 defeat. Other players made similar plays throughout the season, enabling the unit to get Tech's high-powered offense back onto the field for its record-setting scoring season.
In just nine games as the defensive coordinator in 2007, the defensive unit made an overnight transition that paid dividends for the program. While the unit finished third overall in the Big 12 Conference in total defense, it 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. McNeill's defensive tackles in 2007 were among the best in the league, including the play of true freshman Whitlock at nose tackle. Whitlock had 8.5 tackles for loss and two sacks on the season and was named a first-team Freshman All-American. The unit continues this season to be one of the youngest in the Big 12, but one of the more productive. Overall, seven of the 11 starters in 2009 could be underclassmen.
McNeill's leadership as special teams coordinator until 2008 took the unit to a new level. Known as the "Little Engine that Could," current New England Patriot Wes Welker set NCAA records in career punt returns, punt return yards and punt returns for touchdowns.
Placekicker Alex Trlica set NCAA records for career PATs made without a miss (233) and is Tech's all-time scoring leader for a kicker (371), and ranks third on the all-time scoring list. Former punter Alex Reyes set a Tech career punt average record with 43.3 yards per punt in 2006, passing former Tech and Chicago Bear great Maury Buford.
A cause of a great deal of frustration for opposing punt return units, the Red Raider punting team allowed only 120 punt return yards on the season, a 222-yard improvement from 2005.
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.
Under his tutelage, middle linebacker Lawrence Flugence rose to national prominence, setting an NCAA record with 193 tackles in 2002. A seventh-round NFL Draft pick in 2005, current Baltimore Ravens linebacker Mike Smith honed his skills under McNeill during his first two seasons, earning a starting nod midway through his freshman campaign. John Saldi also found success as he kicked off his career as the Defensive MVP of the Tangerine Bowl during his freshman season in 2002. 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 hill 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, N.C., 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 in both seasons and assistant head coach in 1998.
A four-year letterwinner 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. 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, Olivia (19) and Renata (29). Olivia is a sophomore at Appalachian State.