McNeill eager to get to work

New ECU coach has young staff

staff writerFebruary 23, 2010 

— If you add up the ages of East Carolina's three youngest assistant football coaches, you only get to 80, the same age as recently retired Florida State legend Bobby Bowden.

Whatever the Pirates lack in age, first-year head coach Ruffin McNeill expects the group to make up in familiarity with the system he's bringing from Texas Tech to ECU.

McNeill's staff, finalized this month after the whirlwind process that landed him Greenville on Jan. 21, includes five assistants who worked alongside McNeill at Texas Tech. The only holdover from Skip Holtz's staff is veteran assistant Donnie Kirkpatrick, the recruiting coordinator.

Offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley (26 years old), offensive line coach Brandon Jones (26) and running backs coach Clay McGuire (28) give ECU one of the youngest staffs in the country. Add Marc Yellock (31) and Dennis Simmons (36), and the Pirates have five assistants under 40.

New defensive coordinator Brian Mitchell, 41, is a senior citizen by comparison.

Not that age is a concern for McNeill, who served as an assistant coach for 24 seasons.

"I know them, I trust them," said McNeill, 51. "I've seen them work."

Riley, McGuire, Jones, Simmons and Mitchell worked with McNeill at Texas Tech. They hope to replicate the success the Red Raiders had under coach Mike Leach, who went 84-43 in 10 seasons before being dismissed before their bowl game this past season.

McNeill, Leach's defensive coordinator the past two seasons, and Riley, who called the offensive plays in the bowl game, led Texas Tech to a 41-31 win over Michigan State in the Alamo Bowl on Jan. 2.

Riley began his coaching career as a sophomore at Texas Tech in 2003 and was McNeill's first hire at ECU. He plans to implement the "Air Raid" offense, which has ranked in the top three nationally in passing offense in each of the past five seasons.

"There are some different concepts that I like, but I'm not an idiot," Riley said. "I know we were pretty good at Tech."

The new coaching staff is eager to get to work on the field. The coaches have been able to watch the returning players lift weights and review two hours of film together per week, but they can't wait for the beginning of spring practice March 22.

"That's when I can make more of a definitive decision on what we have," McNeill said. "It's sort of hard without pads on. I know we have some guys who can really run. I like the way our guys work, but I want to eye-ball 'em."

jp.giglio@newsobserver.com or 919-829-8938

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