Nichol's Rise to OC: All Part of the Plan

GREENVILLE, N.C. — Dave Nichol's promotion to offensive coordinator was a decision made long ago by Ruffin McNeill.

While the news of former East Carolina coordinator Lincoln Riley leaving for Oklahoma surfaced earlier in the week, Dave Nichol was at the national coaches convention in Louisville, K.Y., eating a slice of pepperoni pizza, when he received a text.

It was from fifth-year coach Ruffin McNeill, telling Nichol to meet him at a hotel, where he soon would be offered the keys to the Pirates’ offense.

“It happened real quick,” said Nichol. “I said let’s go and I just started calling recruits before I started calling my parents or anything.”

Nichol, 38, didn’t seem fazed upon being promoted to offensive coordinator and certainly wasn’t surprised that he was offered the job. He was prepared for the opportunity because it was all part of the plan. McNeill’s plan.

McNeill said Friday afternoon that he knew Riley was going to move on at some point — citing that Riley had turned down four coaching job offers at about this time last year — and when that day eventually arrived, McNeill acted swiftly.

“The promotion with Dave to offensive coordinator was thought out long ago,” McNeill said, referencing his time coaching alongside Nichol at Texas Tech and bringing him from Arizona to become ECU’s outside receivers coach in 2012. “When somebody leaves, we’ve got a guy ready to go. Dave was the guy the second I talked to Lincoln and knew he was gone. No hesitation.”

While McNeill met with reporters, down the hall inside the Ward Sports Medicine Building, Nichol was holding a meeting with the Pirates’ offensive players that McNeill said would be “his most important as a coordinator.”

It was the first time Nichol met with his players face to face as the offensive coordinator and ultimately, an opportunity to assure them that few things about the way they have run Riley’s high-octane, “Air Raid” offense over the last five years were going to change.

“We’re going to try and keep it as similar as we can,” said Nichol. “The base structure of what we’re going to do is going to be the same. Now, it changes sometimes because of personnel ... and that changes year-to-year with our personnel. But, for the most part, it should look similar to everybody.”

And if anybody is capable of recreating Riley’s offense, it’s Nichol.

As a graduate assistant coach at Texas Tech, Nichol remembers quarterback Kliff Kingsbury, who is now the Red Raiders’ head coach, coming by his apartment and diagraming the first play coach Mike Leach drew up for him.

He also remembers meeting a teenager in 2002 who arrived at Tech as a walk-on quarterback named Lincoln Riley. Little did Nichol know then that this encounter would mark the beginning of long, fruitful working relationship between the two for the better part of a decade.

“I’ve known him forever and we’ve been really close,” said Nichol. “When I came here, once we started talking about plays, we’ve almost learned (the offense) together. I’ve already bounced a few things off of him ... so we’ll continue to talk. He’s a good friend.”

With signing day closing in on two weeks away, ECU is welcoming in several recruits on their official visits this weekend. Many of which are offensive players you would think are wondering whether Nichol can continue where Riley left off.

Or maybe they are not.

Nichol insisted that the transition has gone over well with recruits so far, saying the only challenges he faces now is “the normal stuff of holding on (to commitments) and fighting off schools like we all do.”

On several occasions, McNeill has called Nichol 2014’s recruiter of the year because of a trip they took to Atlanta last January. It was during an ice storm, where a fleet of cars was left stranded on the highway. But not Nichol’s. And in admittedly far-from-ideal driving conditions, Nichol got McNeill into the homes of recruits in what McNeill described as “car bumper dodge ball.”

The primary message McNeill and Nichol wanted to get across Friday was that the Pirates’ accomplishments on offense over the last five years are not defined one or two people. Not Lincoln Riley, not even Shane Carden and Justin Hardy. McNeill was clear that Riley’s departure was not the end of an era, but maybe the start of another.

“This offense is what we’re going to run,” McNeill said. “This is East Carolina’s offense.”

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