New ECU football staff has a youthful look|McNeill confident in his coaches

Published 12:58 am Tuesday, February 23, 2010

By By BRIAN HAINES, Sports Writer
GREENVILLE — How focused is Ruffin McNeill on East Carolina football? The Pirates new head coach has finalized his coaching staff faster than he has stabilized his own living situation.
McNeill, who has been off and running since he was named East Carolina’s 20th head coach in the program’s history, is still living out of a hotel. While McNeill’s residence is not permanent, he hopes his impact on ECU football will be.
On Monday, McNeill formally introduced his staff to the media and said that he is confident he has the right people in the right places.
“I feel really good about the placement of the staff,” McNeill said. “The offensive staff may look young, but chronologically with myself included, we have been around this offense for 56 years. I think all these guys are at the top of their profession. They are really sharp, really good football coaches who are hands on with their players academically and on the field.
“Defensively, … Coach (Mark) Nelson will do a great job special teams-wise and on the defensive line. John Wiley and Brian Mitchell, we have worked together for a long time, so I feel good about our staff. I feel like we have everybody intact. This is a staff that gets along well and reacts well, so I’m very pleased with those guys.”
McNeill has pieced together a staff that has a good mix of youth and experience.
On the defensive side of the ball coordinator Brian Mitchell will call the shots. Mitchell, 41, has spent the last four seasons as the cornerbacks’ coach at Texas Tech and was the defensive assistant at BYU for 11 years prior.
Nelson, who brings 23 years of professional and collegiate coaching experience to the table, will coach special teams and the defensive ends. Nelson was most recently the defensive coordinator for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers of the CFL.
East Carolina alum Mark Yellock, 31, has been tabbed to coach the defensive tackles, and previously worked at Elon, where he helped the school achieve at top-10 ranking for the first time ever.
One of the more intriguing coaches on the staff is associate head coach/linebackers’ coach John Wiley. Wiley, 48, served at Appalachian State for 19 years and began his career in 1987 at Texas Tech.
Wiley was in charge of a very successful secondary at ASU, and will be an integral figure on McNeill’s staff.
“I trust John as much as I trust anybody in coaching. He’s a good football coach and a really good man,” McNeill said. “The associate head coach on my staff is not a label that is tossed around. I will ask a lot of John as far as wisdom and some decision making … John will be a guy that everyone on our staff will benefit from because he is coming from three national championships.”
Despite Wiley’s defensive background, McNeill made it clear that Mitchell will be calling the shots on game day, and that Wiley will serve as the eye in the sky.
On offense, all the attention will be focused on the McNeill’s 26-year old offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley.
Riley began his career as a walk-on at Texas Tech and was converted to a student-coach by Mike Leach before becoming a grad assistant and eventually a wide receivers coach.
McNeill said Riley earned his stripes as well as the coach’s trust when he assumed play calling duties during the Alamo Bowl after the Leach debacle left McNeill as the interim head coach for the Raiders five days before the bowl game. McNeill and Riley each passed their respective tests as the No. 21 Raiders topped Michigan State 41-31.
“I have a lot of confidence in Lincoln,” McNeill said. “I have watched him develop and grow as a man and as a coach in this profession. The week of the Alamo Bowl I saw him under fire, media fire as well as (the pressure from) taking the coordinator’s role. I saw him take that and not hesitate.
“The night of the game I heard him communicate, make calls, make decisions … And I know his understanding of the offense is what I wanted.”
Riley handled the media intrigue well on Monday, and said that the only thing he is concerned with is results.
“If you can do the job it doesn’t matter if you are 10 years old or 50; if you can do it than you can do it, if you can’t you can’t,” Riley said. “A lot of coaches this day and age start when they are doing playing at 22 or 23, I started doing this when I was 19 years old. I have been in this for a while, I know what I’m doing. I have a wonderful staff around me that know exactly what I want and what we want to do. We are all on the same page.”
Joining Riley on the offensive side of the ball is offensive line coach Brandon Jones. Jones, who like Riley is only 26 years old, and is a former Texas Tech player and staff assistant.
Coaching the running backs will be 28-year old Clay McGuire, who graduated from Texas Tech in 2004. McGuire most recently completed his second year as a Red Raider, and his first as a running backs’ coach for Tech.
The lone holdover on the staff from the Holtz regime is Donnie Kirkpatrick, who will be McNeill’s inside receivers’ coach/recruiting coordinator.