There's definitely a case to be made that the coaches of the AAC are the most intriguing bunch in college football. We discussed George O'Leary, Willie Taggart, and Bob Diaco over here in Part 1. Below, we finish our rundown on the east:
Ruffin McNeill (ECU)
Chas Short: Ruffin McNeill stands out for a few reasons. First, he is one of only a handful of guys at the FBS level who head coaches his alma mater (which subjectively increases his "good guy" rating in our eyes).
Also, this is what Ruffin McNeil looks like:
Photo credit: Marvin Gentry/USA TODAY Sports
And this is what Ruffin McNeil used to look like:
Photo Credit: Geoff Burke/Getty Images
McNeill used to be, uh, quite large. He weighed as much as 388 pounds at his peak. Now he's almost-sort-of-maybe-middle-age svelte. McNeill is surely notable as one of the gastric bypass success stories among the college football coaching ranks (contrast that with, say, the saga of fellow gastric bypass patient Charlie Weis).
Finally, there's some added conference intrigue here with both McNeill and Tommy Tuberville coaching in the same division. Back in 2009, McNeill was Texas Tech's defensive coordinator under Mike Leach. Leach got fired. McNeill was elevated into the interim head coach role and led TTU to a bowl win over Michigan State. Tuberville was then hired as head coach. Tubs replaced McNeill with James Willis as the new DC. And now McNeil and Tubs get to coach against each other every year.
The AAC is special, huh?
Tommy Tuberville (Cincinnati)
Chas Short: Speaking of Tommy Tuberville . . . if you prefer to cast someone other than O'Leary as the heel of the AAC, how about Tubs? His reputation as a mercenary is not entirely undeserved.
Before Cincinnati, Tubs was the head coach at Texas Tech. His exit was messy and drama-filled. A 247Sports affiliate quoted a TTU recruit who claimed that Tuberville simply walked out of a dinner at the 50-Yard Line Steakhouse before the food came:
"The waitress brought out food out, and we thought (Tuberville) went to the bathroom, but he never came back to dinner. The next thing I know, the next day, he made an announcement that he's going to Cincinnati." [. . .]
"Everybody was going crazy [the next day] [. . .] The players were shocked, too. We still had a good time at night, but it was crazy how he just got up and left out of nowhere and left people in the dark and shadow.
For their parts, Tommy Tuberville and the University of Cincinnati denied the story. SB Nation readers would later fax Tuberville the 50-Yard Line Steakhouse menu which is, obviously, awesome.
Tubs was no stranger to messy departures for new jobs. Back in 1998, he was the head coach at Ole Miss, where he infamously proclaimed, "They'll have to carry me out of here in a pine box." Just two days later, he was gone. And, uh, not in a coffin. He was out the door to Auburn. Tubs reportedly "never told his [Ole Miss] players so much as good-bye." Ouch.
Matt Rhule (Temple)
Jake Hyman: Like McNeill, Matt Rhule's generally a positive leader on and off the field. Rhule's favorite day of the week outside of Saturday is Tuesday. He lines up on the podium with a smile on his face every week ready and willing to answer questions. He knows the media by name and is one for jokes and witty remarks. What makes Rhule a personable head coach is his approachability and charisma which showcases his humbleness. With a new contract, Rhule should have more confidence and will take more risks. It's cliché to say don't judge a book by it's cover, but Rhule has really won me over from his first season and is respected by many. Add to this the fact that he's coached over 20 NFL players since 2008 and draws rave reviews from coaches and players about the passion he exudes for the game of football.
This will be a year to watch Rhule and the Temple program. Currently "building his brand" of football at Temple (and certainly improving its image), it's apparent that Rhule's philosophy starts with the defense. What remains to be seen is whether the offense will come around and get Rhule to his first bowl game as a head coach.
Rhule also gets to face his alma mater opening week in Penn State where he played Linebacker. He's hoping OLB Tyler Matekevich and the rest of the Owls are laying the hurt this time around.