LUBBOCK, Texas - Texas Tech's defensive improvements through the final nine games of 2007 were obvious under interim defensive coordinator Ruffin McNeill, prompting head coach Mike Leach to drop the "interim" tag from McNeill's title Tuesday evening. The eight-year assistant coach is the third defensive coordinator under Leach in eight seasons.
"Ruffin took the reins of our defense and made it a more aggressive, successful unit than it had been," Leach said. "The players responded and played with enthusiasm the rest of the year. In nine games, Ruffin took our defense to the top of the Big 12 Conference rankings. Our players are excited and looking forward to playing for him.
"Not only has he proven himself as an outstanding defensive coordinator, he also is a valuable asset to us on the recruiting trail," Leach added. "Ruffin is a natural when dealing with people and he continues to elevate us in this area as well."
Following a disappointing 49-45 loss in the fourth game of the season at Oklahoma State, which rolled up over 600 yards of total offense, Leach appointed McNeill interim defensive coordinator for the remainder of the season. The improvements began to show immediately.
Over the course of the final eight games of the regular season, Texas Tech's defense ranked first in the Big 12 Conference in total defense and improved in every defensive category. Additionally, the Red Raider pass defense led the conference and was among the top units in the country. The defense was instrumental in Texas Tech advancing to its second New Year's Day bowl game since the 2005 season.
Texas Tech players flourished individually under McNeill as true freshman nose tackle Colby Whitlock and redshirt freshman linebacker Brian Duncan were named to freshman All-America teams. Several other Red Raiders garnered all-conference honors in 2007.
McNeill picks up his first defensive coordinator title since 1998, when he was in the same position at UNLV, a position he held for two seasons (1997-98). He also was defensive coordinator at Appalachian State during the 1993-96 seasons.
The 22-year collegiate veteran began his career as a graduate assistant coaching the linebackers at Clemson in 1985-86. He continued coaching linebackers the next five seasons at Austin Peay (1987), North Alabama (1988) and Appalachian State (1989-91) and returned to his alma mater in 1992 to coach the defensive line for a season. He returned to Boone, N.C., as the Mountaineers defensive coordinator in 1993. Prior to his first season at Texas Tech, he coached the defensive line at Fresno State in 1999.
McNeill's postseason resume includes Texas Tech's eight bowl game appearances and three bowl games at Clemson and Fresno State. As a standout defensive back at East Carolina, McNeill led ECU to the 1978 Independence Bowl.
A four-year letterwinner at East Carolina and a three-year starter, McNeill graduated from ECU in 1980 and received a master's degree in counseling from Clemson in 1987.
TECH DEFENSE PPG RUSH PASS OFF PUNTS
2007 Games 1-4 28.2 198.8 206.8 405.5 4.0
*2007 Games 5-12 24.5 157.1 190.8 347.9 5.7
*Under McNeill (seven of McNeill's eight regular-season games came against the Big 12)