Will ‘Coach Ruff’ be ‘Charlottesville dangerous’ on Saturday?

By Jerry Ratcliffe

Ruffin McNeill (Photo: NC State Athletics)

When Virginia takes the field on Saturday, there will be a familiar face across the sidelines.

Former UVA assistant head coach Ruffin McNeill, who worked under Bronco Mendenhall during Mendenhall’s first year with the Cavaliers in 2016, is now a special assistant with NC State coach Dave Doeren.

After his lone year with Virginia, McNeill answered the call from then-new Oklahoma head coach Lincoln Riley, who once served as McNeill’s offensive coordinator at East Carolina.

McNeill served as the Sooners’ assistant head coach and coached defensive tackles in 2017, did the same and was interim defensive coordinator in 2018 when Oklahoma fired coordinator Mike Stoops, and then returned to assistant head coach and outside linebackers coach in 2019.

The 61-year-old McNeill, one of the most beloved men in college football, returned to his native state this past summer to join Doeren’s Wolfpack staff.

“I’ve known Ruffin since the beginning of my coaching career,” Doeren said. “Not only is he one of my closest friends in the profession, but he’s been a mentor to me since I was 24 years old.

“We’ve crossed paths on the recruiting trail many times over the past 24 years and have been friends and competitors. Having a former head coach on our staff who I can trust and have known for almost my entire career is a huge benefit for me personally, as well as for our entire program.”

Ruffin left the Oklahoma program in January in order to return to North Carolina to help care for his elderly father.

That comes to no surprise to anyone who has crossed paths with McNeill, including Mendenhall, who fell in love with Coach Ruff in the one year they worked together.

Earlier this week, Mendenhall was asked what it will be like to see McNeill on Saturday and how strange it will be not to hug him in these days of Covid-19 protocol.

“Oh, I’m not sure it’s possible not to hug him,” Mendenhall said with a smile. “I mean, I might have to put two masks on. It’ll be so good to see Ruff and he’s one of my favorite people on the planet.

“I’ve never heard someone say that he loves someone after like three seconds of meeting him when the other person actually thinks he does. He just has this way of warmth and engaging, and, yeah, we used to have a segment when he was here when he would present to the team.

“Even though I was the head coach, he was a different kind of ‘dangerous’ every day. So, he might be gratefully dangerous, or he might be getting ready-to-go-on-vacation dangerous, or he might be anniversary dangerous, and the team used to just love the way he would teach in his own language, his own way. He could admonish a player in ways I could never even imagine, and they still loved him, even though he was hard on them. It’s just his magical personality.”


  1. Lin Nichols says:

    So cool

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