In his 22nd season on the collegiate level, assistant head coach Ruffin McNeill enters his eighth season as a member of Mike Leach's staff. Carrying dual duties as defensive tackles coach and special teams coordinator, McNeill is one of the most versatile coaches on the staff and also one of the most beloved by the Red Raider football teams.
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 in the program.
The Texas Tech defensive unit has steadily improved each of the last three seasons - no season more evident than 2006. Led by the men up front, the Red Raiders' first line of defense assisted in Tech's 33 sacks, 15 more than recorded the previous season, and the most since the 2003 squad posted 34.
Defensive tackle Dek Bake led the interior with 47 tackles and six and a half sacks and seven and a half tackles for loss. Nose tackle Chris Hudler picked up all-conference attention after turning in 41 tackles, four sacks and seven tackles for loss.
Additionally, the play of true freshmen Rajon Henley (14 tackles) and Richard Jones (six tackles, one sack) displayed a promising future for the unit, as does the top-flight recruiting class signed in February.
The Red Raider rush defense held opponents to 151.1 yards per game in 2006, the best since 1999, and limited the opposition to the second-lowest total offensive output since 2000.
McNeill's leadership as special teams coordinator has taken the unit to a new level. Known as the "Little Engine that Could," current Miami Dolphin Wes Welker set NCAA records in career punt returns, punt return yards and punt returns for touchdowns.
Placekicker Alex Trlica currently holds the NCAA record for career PATs made without a miss (166) and is Tech's all-time scoring leader for a kicker. He also ranks third on the all-time scoring list. Outgoing punter Alex Reyes set a Tech career punt average record with 43.3 yards per punt, 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 136 punt return yards on the season, a 206-yard improvement from 2005 with only a difference in one total punt between the seasons.
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.
Prior to signing on at Texas Tech, McNeill was the defensive line coach at Fresno State.
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 (17) and Renata (27).