December 10, 2007
Did Ruffin McNeill do enough?
One of Mike Leach's beliefs is that change is not always good. According to the head Red Raider, if you are going to make a change you had better be danged sure that the change will be an improvement. In Leach's opinion, change all too often results in regression or deterioration.
Something to keep in mind when contemplating what Tech's head football coach should and will do regarding his defensive coordinator situation.
Leach stood pat a good little while before making his biggest change ever during his coaching tenure in Lubbock. That was the move that bounced Lyle Setencich out of the defensive coordinator position and elevated Ruffin McNeill to his old boss's spot. McNeill, however, has the "interim" modifier in front of his title and the big question is whether or not Leach will make McNeill's promotion permanent. And should he?
There are certainly arguments for and against, but the need for caution in this situation could be the most powerful argument for all. And it's an argument that supports making McNeill the permanent defensive coordinator for the 2008 season.
Bear in mind Tech's correlation of forces going into next year. The powerful Red Raider offense returns 10 starters including certified Heisman Trophy candidates Graham Harrell and Michael Crabtree.
The defense returns eight starters including budding stars such as Colby Whitlock, Ra'jon Henley, Brandon Williams and Jamar Wall.
Furthermore, Tech will again enjoy the services of punter Jonathan LaCour who could be an All American some day if he ever actually gets the opportunity to punt the ball three times in a game.
The 2008 schedule also shapes up very favorably. Tech opens with four non-conference foes, three of which will enjoy the tender mercies of The Jones. Those four opponents (Tulsa, Nevada, SMU, Massachusetts), moreover, are respectable enough to provide a meaningful encounter, but not so fearsome as to pose the specter of defeat.
Then the Red Raiders get a rare bye week before beginning Big 12 play with a beatable Kansas State team on the road. Historic Tech whipping boys Nebraska and Texas A&M follow before the Red Raiders travel to Lawrence for a clash with renascent Kansas. Should Tech get by the Jayhawks they will close out the season with home games against Texas, Oklahoma State and Baylor, broken up only by a trip to Norman for a bout with the Sooners.
At this point, the Kansas and Oklahoma tilts look to be the only ones in which the Red Raiders might not be favored.
Add everything together, and 2008 looks more promising than any Tech football season since 1977 when the Red Raiders entered the season ranked in the nation's top ten.
The promise of a monster season is there. The golden apple looks ripe for the plucking. In such a situation, does Mike Leach really want to make a radical coaching change, not knowing what the consequences may be?
Leach is big on team chemistry, but coaching chemistry is very much a variable in that equation as well. And with Ruffin McNeill plugged in at defensive coordinator and the current staff returning intact, the coaching chemistry next season should be excellent. The Red Raider staff as currently composed, is a cohesive unit in which there is a great deal of mutual belief and support among coaches. This comity can continue, or Leach could make a change that results in who knows what.
And one also needs to look at Leach's history in hiring defensive coordinators. That history is necessarily brief, but taking that brevity into consideration, still does not inspire great confidence.
Leach has hired two defensive coordinators in his time on the Caprock. They were Greg McMackin and Lyle Setencich. The former was competent at best, and most Tech fans and observers were relieved to see him vacate the premises. Setencich was incompetent and ultimately lost his job because of his inability to field a credible Big 12 defense.
In promoting McNeill to permanent defensive coordinator, Leach very well may do better than he could hope to do by hiring a new man from outside the program. And does Leach really want to gamble on hiring another McMackin, or worse, another Setencich, going into what could be THE season? Should he do this when the solution to his defensive problems may already be on his staff?
The risk is simply too great. Mike Leach should not play craps with his defensive coordinator position at this time, and I do not think he will. He should put a stack of blue chips alongside Ruffin McNeill and let the cards roll as they may.
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