McNeill — who led the ECU program from 2010-2015 — gave Riley is first shot as an offensive coordinator in the FBS. The two bonded while holding positions on Mike Leach's Texas Tech staff, where McNeill was defensive coordinator and Riley coached the wide receivers.
"After our final bowl game with Texas Tech, both of us were ready to go our separate ways," McNeill told HERO Sports. "I was getting ready to take a job with coach Harbaugh at Stanford and Lincoln was on the trail too, getting ready to choose his school. I got a call from East Carolina. When I got the call, I called Lincoln that same day. I said 'hey, we got it.' There wasn't any hesitation."
According to McNeill, Riley turned down four different promotions to stay with McNeill at ECU. He revitalized the Pirates' offense, routinely earning top-10 national rankings in major statistical categories like passing offense (3rd in 2014, 8th in 2010) and scoring offense (5th in 2014, 8th in 2013).
One of the biggest traits McNeill points to when describing Riley is his patience. There were numerous opportunities to move up the coaching ladder, but the young offensive mastermind always had big ambitions. When Bob Stoops offered him a chance to become the Sooners' offensive coordinator — he knew that would be the perfect stepping stone to eventually landing a major FBS head coaching gig.
When the news broke last week Stoops would be retiring and Riley would finally get his chance, McNeill was nothing short of overjoyed.
"I knew he was ready, but I just started laughing when I saw that," McNeill said. "That was really cool. I texted him 'LOL" and told him I was proud of him."