SAN ANTONIO -- Interim Texas Tech coach Ruffin McNeill learned about Mike Leach's firing in the middle of his team's practice Wednesday afternoon.
McNeill's team was working in the middle of a team drill at Incarnate Word University when he was told that Leach has been fired after 10 years as Tech's coach.
"When I heard it, there was a little bit of shock, but you learn in this business that anything can happen," McNeill said. "You have to be professional at all times. I've been blessed to have professional group. And once we heard about it, we had another productive day of practice."
McNeill said the controversial firing is difficult for him because of his respect for Leach and Texas Tech.
"We've had some family things that have gone on and some things out there that have happened, university things and things between two parties that make it a torn situation," McNeill said. "I love both sides of the party. Coach Leach has been great friend and a great boss and Texas Tech has been a great university for me as well. You can imagine how torn I am."
McNeill, 51, worked with Leach during his entire tenure at Tech, taking over as the defensive coordinator after the Red Raiders were embarrassed in a 49-45 loss at Oklahoma State in 2007. That prompted a staff change the following day with the resignation of Lyle Setencich.
His ascension has been responsible for much of Tech's defensive improvement, which has helped them become contenders in the South Division. Tech notched 39 sacks this season to rank second nationally in per-game average behind Pittsburgh as a young defense became an unexpected team strength.
"We've been together so long," McNeill said. "It is a tough situation, but at the same time, I know the professionalism must override everything. I've been in a lot of situations good and bad in 29 years, success and failures, I've learned from both of them."
McNeill said he hasn't talked to Leach since his firing. The abrupt change has altered some things for him, but he's determined to have his team ready to play Michigan State Saturday night in the Valero Alamo Bowl.
"It's kind of like going 95 mph in a school zone," McNeill said. "The biggest thing and my biggest focus has been making sure the players are focused. We're trying to keep a cool head when everybody else is losing their's. We're trying to stay as close to possible with our routine to make sure our routine doesn't come off the track."