Monday morning, Bielema called Rice head coach Todd Graham to ask permission to speak to McCray about the opening with the Badgers. Graham not only obliged, he told McCray he should take the job.
"The greatest thing about it—the head coach down here blessed the whole thing," McCray said Monday afternoon, when reached on his cell phone as he was literally leaving his office at Rice and saying goodbye to coaches he had worked with for just two weeks. "He's like, ‘Man, you've got to take this. This is an opportunity of a lifetime.' So, what a great guy."
McCray has been an assistant coach since 1991, spending the past three seasons at Toledo. He coached the Rockets' linebackers for two years and was their defensive line coach last season.
He ended up at Rice on the recommendation of the Owls' defensive coordinator, Paul Randolph.
"One of my best friends in the world is the (Owls') defensive coordinator," McCray said. "And he said the same thing: ‘You've got to go. It's an opportunity of a lifetime. Take it and run.'"
So McCray did just that, jumping at Bielema's offer Monday morning.
"Coach Bielema and I talked this morning, and he offered the job and I took it," McCray said euphorically.
"I'm blessed to know Coach Bielema and blessed that I was part of this (Rice) organization down here while I was," McCray said.
McCray, 36, met Bielema for the first time last month during the national coaches convention in Dallas. They had a mutual friend in Mike Devlin, who was then the offensive line coach at Toledo and is now the offensive line coach with the New York Jets.
McCray interviewed for the UW defensive line position during the convention, and the two kept in touch over the next several weeks.
"Bret and I have gotten to know each other since January," McCray said. "He's a straightforward guy. He's a high-energy guy. He's an exciting person, which kind of fits with my demeanor…
"I try to be high-intensity, high-exciting. So that's kind of how we just kind of hit it off that way."
McCray understood that Bielema was going to pursue other options for the defensive line position, so he took the job at Rice. Early last week, after UW initially hired Lane, McCray called Bielema to "tell him thank you for talking to me and maybe we can keep in touch for the future," McCray said.
The future proved quick in arriving.
"So just a little bit of a whirlwind, but he's a good man, a dynamic guy," McCray said. "I guess I made a good impression and he sure did with me."
McCray, his wife, Michelle, and their 3-year-old son Matt will journey this week to Wisconsin.
"The good Lord has got a plan for us," he said. "He's going to put us where he wants us and we put it in His hands and that's where we go."
Interestingly enough, McCray is the second consecutive coach Bielema hired who played college football at Appalachian State, a Division I-AA school in Boone, N.C. Running backs coach John Settle, whom Bielema hired Feb. 15, rushed for 4,409 yards with the Mountaineers from 1983-86. McCray played at ASU from 1987-91, lettering twice as a running back and linebacker. He has known Settle since '87.
"He was playing for the Falcons and he was still living in Boone, N.C. at the time," McCray said. "I helped him move into one of his houses… So we've known each other for quite a while, as a matter of fact."
McCray, a native of Monroe, N.C., has coached defensive linemen or linebackers through much of his career and was the defensive coordinator at Illinois State from 2000-02. He coached three Division I-AA All-Americans while with the Redbirds. Last season with Toledo, he helped run a defense that was No. 21 in the nation in total defense (316.8 yards per game) and led the Mid-American Conference in scoring defense (21.8 points per game).
From 2000-05 his primary recruiting territory was the Chicagoland area.
"I know that Wisconsin has a great presence there and I think if you do hard work and a good job recruiting… I think you're expectations should be high," McCray said. "And with Wisconsin's success we ought to have great expectations no matter where we decide to recruit."
2006 Wisconsin football coaching staff
Head coach – Bret Bielema
Offensive coordinator/quarterbacks – Paul Chryst
Wide receivers – Henry Mason
Offensive line – Bob Palcic
Running backs – John Settle
Tight ends – Bob Bostad
Defensive coordinator – Mike Hankwitz
Co-defensive coordinator/linebackers/recruiting coordinator – Dave Doeren
Defensive line – Randall McCray
Secondary – Kerry Cooks
Director of football operations – Bill Nayes
Randall McCray, past coaching experience
2005 – Toledo, defensive line
2003-04 – Toledo, linebackers
2000-02 – Illinois State, defensive coordinator (inside linebackers 2000-01, assistant head coach 2002)
1997-99 – Murray State, inside linebackers (defensive coordinator '99)
1996 – Bethune-Cookman, defensive ends
1995 – Clemson, quality control
1993-94 – Tennessee-Chattanooga, defensive line
1991-92 – South Carolina, graduate assistant