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Ruffin McNeill: 'No magic wand' to fix Sooners' defensive woes

NORMAN — Ruffin McNeill isn't going to completely tear apart the defensive system that Mike Stoops had implemented.

But McNeill, Oklahoma's interim defensive coordinator after Stoops' firing, said he does plan to streamline things a bit.

“I'm the simplest man you'll know,” McNeill said Tuesday as he met with the media for the first time since taking on the role. “To me — clear mind, fast legs; cloudy mind, slow legs. With that, we hope that they'll play faster.”

That echoes what McNeill did in 2007 when he took over as Texas Tech's interim defensive coordinator after four games and simplified the scheme a bit.

McNeill has started to get into that with the Sooners on a bye week before next week's game at TCU, but that hasn't been his primary focus.

“First thing I want to make sure is to get the kids on the same page, all the boys on the same page — the staff first and then the boys,” McNeill said. “It's great effort, playing with great fundamentals and great discipline, making plays and finishing plays and knowing the game.

“That's my first approach, and I'm a very sequential guy. So first things first — let's work on making sure we get our effort down.”

Tackling has been one of the Sooners' biggest issues, and it's one McNeill said has been emphasized this week with extra periods in practice.

“I think it can,” McNeill said when asked if he was confident the tackling would improve. “I had to do it before. It takes work. There's no Harry Potter. There's no magic wand. It's just making sure that we keep emphasizing it.”

McNeill said he didn't believe Oklahoma's defense was a long way away from having success, a point repeated by middle linebacker Kenneth Murray.

“We have little tweaks that we need to make to complete ourselves as a defense,” Murray said. “We're not far off.”

Murray said the Monday meeting where the team was officially informed of the changes was an emotional one, but that things had calmed down among the defensive players.

“We were able to move on,” Murray said. “We understand that what Coach (Lincoln) Riley made was a decision he made. We understand and trust his decision. We know that he knows what's best for us, so that's what we're trusting in right now.”

Murray said McNeill and interim outside linebackers coach Bob Diaco brought “great energy” to practices the last two days.

“That's something he told us, that we needed a spark,” Murray said. “We're taking it upon ourselves as players to bring that spark.

“I think right now it's on us. That's what I'm preaching to everybody on the defense.”

McNeill will no longer have the responsibility of coaching the Sooners' defensive tackles. Instead, Calvin Thibodeaux, who had coached the defensive ends, will now handle all of the defensive linemen.

“I get a chance to roam a little bit more, be part of everyone's drills or what have you,” McNeill said. “I've been in that position before and a great coach like Calvin, he can handle it. We've been prepared for that.”

Related Photos
<p>Sooners interim defensive coordinator Ruffin McNeill said the defense would be a bit simplified as OU adjusts after Mike Stoops' departure. [Photo by Steve Sisney, The Oklahoman]</p>

Sooners interim defensive coordinator Ruffin McNeill said the defense would be a bit simplified as OU adjusts after Mike Stoops' departure. [Photo by Steve Sisney, The Oklahoman]

<figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-9fc14c1b2e26cd0889b1c28291136d4b.jpg" alt="Photo - Sooners interim defensive coordinator Ruffin McNeill said the defense would be a bit simplified as OU adjusts after Mike Stoops' departure. [Photo by Steve Sisney, The Oklahoman] " title=" Sooners interim defensive coordinator Ruffin McNeill said the defense would be a bit simplified as OU adjusts after Mike Stoops' departure. [Photo by Steve Sisney, The Oklahoman] "><figcaption> Sooners interim defensive coordinator Ruffin McNeill said the defense would be a bit simplified as OU adjusts after Mike Stoops' departure. [Photo by Steve Sisney, The Oklahoman] </figcaption></figure>
Ryan Aber

Ryan Aber has worked for The Oklahoman since 2006, covering high schools, the Oklahoma City RedHawks, the Oklahoma City Barons and OU football recruiting. An Oklahoma City native, Aber graduated from Northeastern State. Before joining The... Read more ›

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