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View from the 'ville
Thursday, February 18, 2010

By Al Myatt

Life of Riley will be busy this spring

By Al Myatt
All rights reserved.

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 be implemented.

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 game.

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 pass.

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 spring reps.

"It doesn't have to be someone with a cannon arm," Riley said. "We're looking for someone who can lead the other players."

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 championship teams.

"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 improve."

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 the house.

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 that department.

"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 to change.

"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."

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02/18/2010 01:33 AM


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