(ECU SID Photo)
The landscape is different in
Greenville from that of Muleshoe, Texas, where Lincoln Riley was raised.
"You guys actually have trees," said
East Carolina's new offensive coordinator.
Riley migrated to ECU from Texas Tech
with Pirates new head football coach Ruffin McNeill. The 28-year old
Riley may have a little time to appreciate the scenery at the moment but
his focus will narrow on March 22 when spring practice gets underway.
The Pirates will have a long way to go
and a short time to get there in the offseason workouts. The new coaches
will be busy learning and evaluating players. There also are new
offensive and defensive systems with their particular terminologies to
Riley's role will be especially
important because, unlike his previous situation with the Red Raiders,
the head coach is not an offensive mastermind like Mike Leach. McNeill
will be the first to tell anyone that he is a defensive coach.
When it comes to offenses, Ruff thinks
in terms of stopping them. Riley's thought processes are all about
airing it out.
"Lincoln Riley knows the Texas Tech
offense that I know, feel comfortable with and have been a part of
trying to defend for the past 10 years," McNeill said. "He will run the
offense we ran at Texas Tech. I know what it can do and what it will
take us to."
Riley worked with Texas Tech's inside
receivers during the 2009 regular season. When McNeill became interim
head coach for the Alamo Bowl, Riley became offensive coordinator. That
was following the turmoil over the alleged mistreatment of wide receiver
Adam James that led to Leach's termination.
The 'Air Raid' attack at Texas Tech was
second nationally to Houston in 2009 with an average of 386.8 yards
passing per game. The Red Raiders threw for 38 touchdowns. The ground
game was rather anemic in comparison. Texas Tech was 115th out of 120
teams in the Football Bowl Subdivision with just 84 yards rushing per
Texas Tech threw more than twice last
season for every time it ran the ball. Still, the Red Raiders ran for 24
touchdowns — more than any of the bottom 58 teams in the FBS rushing
statistics. Obviously, Texas Tech was able to use its ground game
effectively in the red zone with opponents spread out to defend the
McNeill earned a little bit of notoriety in the Alamo Bowl by going for
it twice on fourth down on Texas Tech's last scoring drive, which was
capped by a 13-yard touchdown run by Baron Batch.
McNeill has said he will make fourth
down calls at ECU. Riley will be prepared with the play selection if
McNeill wants to go for it.
"We talked about it on the sideline at
the Alamo Bowl," Riley said of the late-game, fourth-down situations.
"They weren't long conversations. We both wanted to go for it."
Riley will take what opposing defenses
are giving the Pirate offense. That could mean a lot of excitement when
the Pirates have the ball.
"Coach McNeill told me the other day if
it's fourth and one and they're giving us the chance to go deep, we will
go deep," Riley said. "We're going to attack people. We're not going to
worry about what might happen. We're going to make things happen.
"That's going to be the mentality, not
only offensively but in this program."
McNeill and Riley — the makeshift
braintrust — directed the Red Raiders to a 41-31 bowl win over a
Michigan State team that had dealt with its own share of controversy
with 14 players suspended after a dormitory fracas.
With all the scrutiny and potential
distractions the Red Raiders dealt with in the postseason, McNeill and
Riley might be relatively happy to handle some of the issues confronting
the Pirates — like finding a quarterback.
Riley said he plans to identify the top
two candidates to replace Patrick Pinkney as quickly as possible in the
spring and let them compete. That duo will get the majority of the
"It doesn't have to be someone with a
cannon arm," Riley said. "We're looking for someone who can lead the
ECU will have a degree of coaching
continuity even though Skip Holtz and much of the former staff have gone
to South Florida. New Pirates offensive line coach Brandon Jones was
All-Big 12 as an offensive lineman at Texas Tech. New running backs
coach Clay McGuire is a former Red Raiders running back who has coached
running backs at his alma mater. Outside receivers coach Dennis Simmons
also is a former Red Raiders coach.
Donnie Kirkpatrick is a holdover from
Holtz's staff, who coached wide receivers for a pair of Conference USA
"We won't have to teach our coaches,"
Riley said of the new spread attack. "They understand what we're doing."
The coaching transition will be a fresh
start for running backs Norman Whitley and Jonathan Williams, who had
found their way into Holtz's doghouse after productive performances
earlier in their careers.
"We're not going in with any
preconceived ideas," Riley said regarding personnel.
McNeill has said no one is entitled,
not even himself.
That being the approach, Riley still
has a sense of anticipation of what Dwayne Harris can do. He has talked
with the extraordinary runner/receiver/return man about expectations for
him based upon what Riley has seen on tape.
"He's obviously very talented," Riley
said. "He's got a lot of skills that we're excited to use and to
Harris had 83 catches last season for
978 yards and seven touchdowns. He ran 31 times for 174 yards with five
TDs. He also averaged 27 yards per return on kickoffs, taking three to
Riley expects more, which is proof that
they do think big in the Lone Star state.
"If he has the type of year that he had
last year, I think all of us in here will be very disappointed, and
that's a compliment to him," Riley said. "That shows how high our
expectations are for him."
Big thinkers from Leo Jenkins to Pat
Dye to Steve Logan to Holtz have helped shape ECU football over the
years. The Pirates' new coaching regime doesn't appear to be lacking in
"We're going to be aggressive," Riley
said. "We're going to put people on their heels. That's our goal. That's
probably the biggest thing, especially offensively, that I think we need
"Maybe the biggest obstacle in getting
to where we need to get offensively is the mentality of the guys. Not
saying the mentality was bad before but for what we're asking them to do
we need a different mentality. It's gotta be a mentality of wanting to
score every single time. When you punt, that word almost makes you sick
to your stomach.
"That's the mentality that we
progressed and got to at Tech. That's the mentality that you need to be
great on offense. You've got to have that mentality and the guys, they
understand that. They do. They understand it's not going to be developed
overnight but when you've got everybody on the staff having that type of
mentality, and this staff does, then I think that makes it easier to
have it translate over to the kids.
"That's the most important thing, that
our players have that and they will. It's going to benefit us and it's
going to scare the people we play."