NCF Nation: Dennis Simmons

McNeill, Riley sent packing in Texas Tech coaching change

January, 14, 2010
The coaches who were most directly responsible for helping direct Texas Tech to the Red Raiders' victory over Michigan State in the Valero Alamo Bowl won't be a part of Tommy Tuberville's new staff.

Interim coach/defensive coordinator Ruffin McNeill and inside receivers coach Lincoln Riley were among six coaches who were let go by Tuberville.

McNeill served as the interim coach after Mike Leach was fired the week before the game. And Riley served as the Red Raiders' offensive coordinator, juggling the quarterback switch in which Steven Sheffield was inserted in place of Taylor Potts in the middle of the fourth quarter to direct the comeback victory.

Other coaches from Leach's staff who won't be retained include running backs coach Clay McGuire, safeties coach Carlos Mainord, cornerbacks coach Brian Mitchell and special-teams coordinator Eric Russell.

Among former members of Leach's staff who survived the coaching switch include offensive line coach Matt Moore, defensive ends coach Charlie Sadler and Sonny Cumbie, who is a graduate assistant for the offense. Wide receivers coach Dennis Simmons also will be retained in some capacity on Tuberville's staff.

McNeill directed the transformation of the Red Raiders' defense over the last two-and-a-half seasons. The Red Raiders finished 2009 ranked fourth nationally in sacks, but only 94th in turnover margin.

Alabama associate head coach/linebacker coach James Willis appears to have the inside track on becoming Tuberville's new defensive coordinator. The Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported that Willis has been in Lubbock the last two days with his family attempting to get settled in the area.

Posted by's Tim Griffin

Texas Tech coach Mike Leach is a busy man these days. The Red Raiders are in the middle of spring practice. Trying to replace record-breaking players like Michael Crabtree and Graham Harrell has made for an eventful few weeks for the Texas Tech coach.

Some might be surprised that Leach is even in Lubbock after his contract impasse with the school that was settled at the last minute. But direct negotiations between Leach and Tech chancellor Kent Hance resulted in a new deal that appears to have Tech's coach entrenched in the High Plains for the foreseeable future.

  Douglas Jones/US Presswire
  The idea of rebuilding is nothing new to Mike Leach.

We caught up with Leach earlier this week while he was attending his son's baseball game. Between pings of aluminum bats and cheers from surrounding parents, Leach detailed some thoughts about his team's work, quarterback Taylor Potts' development, his increased notoriety after an appearance on "60 Minutes" earlier this year and his take on the Somali pirate controversy.

How has practice looked so far for your team this spring?

Mike Leach: I think it's been good. We've got a bunch of guys who are working hard. We've had some good tempo and strong work so far. I've been pleased.

What have been your initial perceptions of Taylor Potts at quarterback?

ML: He's been pretty steady. He had one bad day and one bad period. The rest have been pretty good. He's bigger than the quarterbacks we've had and has a stronger arm than most. And like a lot of them in the past, he had several years to learn and play behind some good people.

Taylor has watched what they have done. And I think the fact that he's been behind Graham, but still didn't waste any reps as a backup. A lot of times as you are sitting and waiting their chance, guys will waste their opportunities to learn. Taylor didn't do that.

With the loss of key players like Harrell, Crabtree and Shannon Woods, is your offense going to change much this season?

ML: I don't think it will change a bunch. But what ends up is that different players and receivers will get more of a chance to emerge and play. Crabtree got so many catches, but now different players and receivers will do well. We'll have a different group of backs who do different things. But I don't think it will change that much.

How much are the Red Raiders going to miss Michael Crabtree?

ML: We've had a couple of guys in Jacoby Franks and Alex Torres who have really played so far. Last season, the second-line guy behind Crabtree was Franks and he's a year better now. I think Torres is a little better this year than last year. It means we are a little deeper than we were. Obviously, neither one is at the Crabtree level yet, but the second-level is stronger than it was last year.

After starting last season 10-0, your team finished the season with a couple of disappointing losses, including the Cotton Bowl defeat to Mississippi. Did that loss stay with you guys a little longer because of the success earlier in the season?

ML: Our guys don't think of things that way. We don't have a team that slacks in a bowl game or lingered after we lost it. We felt like we had a chance to play a little bit better, but certainly by working incredibly hard, we've got a chance to get another cohesive unit again together.

(Read full post)

Posted by's Tim Griffin

There were no surprises or last-minute changes in Michael Crabtree's mind. The two-time Biletnikoff Award winner is off to the NFL draft, where he likely will be taken toward the top of the first round as one of the best receivers available.

  AP Photo/LM Otero
  Is Michael Crabtree's catch-and-run for a TD with 3 seconds left against Texas the best play in Big 12 history?

His departure was expected by Texas Tech coaches. And truthfully, Crabtree was probably as ready at the end of last season as he is now.

His numbers and productivity actually were better in 2007 than this season, when an ankle injury limited him late in the year. He still ended his career with 231 catches, a mind-boggling number considering he only played two years of college football.

It means that Tech coach Mike Leach not only will be looking for a new quarterback to replace Graham Harrell, but also a playmaking threat to fill in for Crabtree.

Backup quarterback Taylor Potts will be poised to take over for Harrell. But finding a replacement for Crabtree at his outside flanker position in Leach's offense won't be quite so easy.

Tech's top returning receivers are sophomore Detron Lewis, who produced 76 receptions, and freshman Tramain Swindall, who notched 46 catches, while sharing an inside receiving position. Leach has said he doesn't plan to move Swindall outside, but is looking at him at another of his four starting slots.

Crabtree's most likely replacement will emerge from a young cast including Lyle Leong, Rashad Hawk, Jacoby Franks and Todd Walker. All have shown flashes of promise, but don't have much game experience.

"I think our talent pool can withstand the loss," Tech receivers coach Dennis Simmons told the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal when news of Crabtree's departure first broke last week. "Obviously, it's a tremendous loss if that's what happens. But I do think that those kids will step in and play well."

It also seemingly would make the next Crabtree easier to recruit. Crabtree's development has no doubt caught the attention of many top five-star prospects across the country. Matching his development in Tech's explosive passing offense should have a lot of appeal for the kinds of recruits that Leach traditionally has not been able to get before Crabtree arrived.

Crabtree goes down in history as the greatest receiver in Tech history and in the Big 12, for that matter. No player has ever won back-to-back Biletnikoff Awards like he has accomplished in his last two seasons.

His thrilling 28-yard TD catch from Harrell in the Red Raiders' 39-33 upset victory over then-No. 1 Texas could go down as the greatest play in Big 12 history. It had tremendous significance not only in boosting Tech to its highest level in the national polls, but also costing Texas a chance to play for the national championship.

And the scouts I've talked to think that he's going to be a whale of a wide receiver once he plays at the next level. Crabtree's determination and practice habits are unsurpassed. The player I've heard him compared most frequently to is Hall of Fame receiver Michael Irvin.

If Crabtree approaches that kind of career, he'll be a great NFL player. And I frankly would be surprised if he doesn't become one -- as long as he stays away from injuries and lands on the right team.