One of Lincoln Riley’s mentors and longtime co-workers is leaving the Oklahoma football staff for some time. Ruffin McNeill, the Sooners’ outside linebackers coach and assistant head coach, announced Thursday that he is returning to North Carolina to help his family as his father deals with health issues.
“This was one of the hardest decisions I’ve had to make,” McNeill said in a statement. “But in the end, being near my dad was a necessary choice. Right now I need to be a son again and I need to help my brother and other family members take care of my dad, who is battling significant health issues. This is not retirement for me. I still want to coach in some form or fashion. But right now that can’t be the case. My focus needs to be on my dad back in North Carolina.”
It is unclear when McNeill could return to coaching. McNeill’s departure leaves Riley with two assistant coaching spots to fill as he enters his fourth season as head coach of the Sooners. Running backs and special teams coordinator Jay Boulware left the Oklahoma staff last week for a job with Texas, which is where he played and began his coaching career.
Riley and McNeill worked together on the Texas Tech staff from 2003 to 2009 and again at East Carolina from 2010 through 2014 when McNeill was head coach and Riley the offensive coordinator. Riley joined the OU staff in 2015 and brought McNeill on as an assistant after he was promoted to head coach in 2017.
“We go back a long, long way,” Riley said. “Hard to believe we’ve been together 15 of the last 17 years. I certainly owe him for helping shape me as a football coach, but I’ll always be more appreciative of the impact he had on shaping me as a person. He’s as genuine as it gets. I’m incredibly grateful for his mentorship and friendship, and for everything he’s done for me and my family. We wish him, his wife Erlene and their family the best of luck as they return home.”