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Ruffin McNeill: A Little Perspective

So I started thinking a little bit more about Coach McNeill and his step up to the defensive coordinator position for our Red Raiders. I couldn't help but think that someone needed to do a bit of research on Coach McNeill and his prior coaching success or failures along the way.

I think it's only fair to take a look at the times where McNeill is actually the defensive coordinator rather than as a position coach. Also keep in mind that it's a tad bit difficult to find statistics on these sorts of things, I think the internets is still catching up.

McNeill started at defensive coordinator for Appalachian State in 1993 and remained the defensive coordinator until 1996. During that span, Appalachian State improved at McNeill's guidance, whether that be by record or by points against:

Year Record Pts For Pts For Avg Pts Against Pts Against Avg
1993 4-7 207 18.81 252 22.90
1994 9-4 363 27.92 209 16.07
1995 12-1 375 28.84 251 19.30
1996 7-4 223 20.27 196 17.81

That's not a bad streak by any account. In fact, these numbers propelled McNeill to the professional ranks where he for the Miami Dolphins in 1996, but returned to the college ranks in 1997 and 1998. This is where it gets a little ugly and I started to get a little worried:

Year Record Pts For Pts For Avg Pts Against Pts Against Avg
1997 3-8 281 25.54 332 30.18
1998 0-11 156 14.18 389 35.36

There is good news here, or at least a silver lining. UNLV is absolutely horrible, and they have been horrible for years. The two years prior to McNeill's arrival, UNLV was a combined 3-20. After the 1998 year UNLV fired then head coach Jeff Horton and hired former USC coach John Robinson who was able to lead the team to a winning record in 2000 (8-5), but the rest has been fairly dismal. The 389 points given up in 1998 are absurd, but given that the offense was absolutely horrible and the thought that the defense was out on the field for a good part of the game, then these numbers make sense. Quite simply, McNeill probably shouldn't be blamed entirely for those horrible years at UNLV and I would think a majority of the blame should be placed squarely at the feet of then head coach Jeff Horton, 13-44 while at UNLV. McNeill never had an opportunity to have his players play for him and if McNeill actually did have a say in recruiting those players in 1997 and in 1998 then Robinson might owe some of his success to the players that McNeill targeted back in 1997 and 1998.

McNeill did some position coach work after the UNLV experience, and was eventually hired at Texas Tech.

I still don't know what we might be able to predict from McNeill's past performance. Once McNeill left Appalachian State, under coach Jerry Moore, the defensive success continued, but that's not to say that this wasn't because of the players that McNeill brought in and the schemes that he implemented or to say that McNeill didn't have something to do with the future success Appalachian State.

I know that McNeill's and Setencich's numbers have been passed around this year, but for arguments sake and because they may be the most relevant statistics, let's take a look (for complete disclosure, I've also included the offensive numbers, because they can partly tell the story):

Games Offensive Passing Offensive Rushing Offensive Scoring Defensive Passing Defensive Rushing Defensive Scoring Offensive TOP Defensive TOP
Setencich 4 521.00 85.00 49.50 206.50 199.00 28.25 0:29:21 0:30:39
McNeill 9 447.78 47.89 38.89 191.33 156.22 23.11 0:27:32 0:32:09
Difference - 73.22 37.11 10.61 15.17 42.78 5.14 - -

First things first, the offense was not as productive under McNeill as it was under Setencich, much of that because Setenecich had the luxury of a non-conference schedule, sans the OSU game, while McNeill had a conference schedule, sans Northwestern State. Thus, with a higher scoring offense behind him and the same personnel, McNeill's defense still gave up fewer passing yards, fewer defensive rushing yards and 5 fewer points. The other interesting item to note is that the defense was on the field more with McNeill in charge, and he still was able to lower those numbers.

The thing that gets me about all of this talk on McNeill v. Setencich is that McNeill did this with the same players, in the heart of the conference schedule, and still the defense perform significantly better. There's probably a couple of things afoot here. First, the biggest part is that McNeill supposedly simplified the defense and I think that's a huge part of the success. Just let them play. Second, McNeill changed up the lineup quite a bit, not leaning on veterans, but instead going with ability (i.e. linebacker). I'll take ability over experience 9 times out of 10. Third, McNeill's upbeat personality had to have an effect on how these players played. I know that this is the least tangible explanation for the improvement, but perhaps it was the most important.

If nothing else, we have probably learned that McNeill made a bad career decision going to a failing program in UNLV, a decision that we might all be prone to make. The opportunity to move up and the opportunity to turn around a program. Still, I don't know that you could put too much stock in those numbers at UNLV. Of course a much bigger question is concerning football coaches is if past performance, like McNeill's at Appalachian State and UNLV, a barometer of future success, or is it the numbers from last year that should get Texas Tech fans excited?

Thoughts and comments appreciated.