McNeill says he’s ‘proud’ of mentee Ri­ley

Ruf­fin McNeill didn’t need long to know that Lin­coln Ri­ley was ready for his first head coach­ing job. Ri­ley said he grew a lot this sea­son with the Soon­ers.

The Oklahoman (Sunday) - - SPORTS -

It only took Ruf­fin McNeill 30 min­utes to know that Lin­coln Ri­ley was ready for his first head coach­ing job.

Sit­ting with Ri­ley in his ex­pan­sive of­fice back in June, McNeill laughed with his old mentee. For half an hour, they rem­i­nisced about the old times at Texas Tech and East Carolina and laughed about the crazy cir­cum­stances that brought them both to Ok­la­homa.

But then, it was all busi­ness.

Ri­ley laid out his plan for his staff, his play­ers and his sea­son for McNeill, all mapped out within weeks of his pro­mo­tion to head coach.

That’s when McNeill knew that Ri­ley was ready to tackle the task at hand.

Months later, sit­ting at the L.A. Ho­tel, McNeill re­flected on Ri­ley’s first year as head coach.

“From that mo­ment on, he had a plan,” McNeill said, re­mem­ber­ing their June meet­ing af­ter he was hired on as the de­fen­sive tack­les coach. “He had a plan of how to han­dle the team. Not just the team, but the lead­er­ship part of the team. Plan with the staff, where he wanted us re­cruit­ing-wise, po­si­tion-wise. All of that.

“He had a plan al­ready set be­fore we even played a game … It didn’t take the sea­son for me to see. ”Ri­ley’s first sea­son came to a close just days af­ter The Ok­la­homan’s con­ver­sa­tion with McNeill, but his feel­ings about Ri­ley’s first sea­son still hold true.

“Two words: proud and pride,” McNeill said. “When I hear him speak, I see him with the peo­ple around him over there, he’s han­dling it with poise.

“He’s done a great job of han­dling the team, the staff, the me­dia and the sit­u­a­tions of the sea­son, of each week, each day, each game. Very proud of him and how he’s han­dled it. It doesn’t sur­prise me.”

With a tal­ented team and veteran lead­er­ship pro­pelling him, Ri­ley’s first sea­son ended in the Col­lege Foot­ball Play­off — but it was a roller coaster to get there.

In the pre­sea­son, he dis­missed fresh­man quar­ter­back Chris Ro­bi­son for a vi­o­la­tion of team rules. A cou­ple weeks later, he guided the team to a mon­ster win at Ohio State, jump­start­ing its play­off hopes.

Then there was the close win at Bay­lor and the loss to Iowa State.

The shock­ing up­set at the hands of the Cyclones cat­alyzed Ri­ley to make ad­just­ments to his plan, McNeill said.

In the af­ter­math of the Kansas win, Ri­ley had to pun­ish Baker May­field, the player with whom he shares the tight­est bond.

“The dis­ci­pline, it was han­dled in what I call a com­mand in­flu­ence way,” McNeill said. “It was tough on both of them be­cause they’re tight, and he’s like that with all the kids, but those two have a bond. But he made a de­ci­sion. It wasn’t a quick, off-the-cuff de­ci­sion. It was thought about, he made it.”

Ri­ley knows his first sea­son was far from per­fect, and he’s ded­i­cat­ing part of this off-sea­son to self-eval­u­a­tion.

“I know I’ve grown a lot, I’ve learned a lot and I’ll con­tinue to do so,” Ri­ley said. “I think we did some really good things. I think there’s still plenty things that I’ve got to do bet­ter … We had a great year. But it’s all in our na­ture to never be sat­is­fied.”


It didn’t take Ruf­fin McNeill long to know his former mentee was ready to be a head coach.

Brooke Pryor bpryor@ ok­la­


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