After being passed over for the defensive coordinator position at Oregon, defensive backs coach John Neal was ready to interview for the head coaching job at Alabama Birmingham. Before even leaving for Birmingham however, Neal had a change of heart, withdrawing from the list of candidates.
Now, in addition to remaining the defensive backs coach, Neal will also assume the responsibility as the defense's passing game coordinator.
Neal formerly coached at UAB from 1995-2003 as the running backs coach, as well as the defensive coordinator during his final two seasons. UAB's head coaching position opened recently when Garrick McGee stepped down to take the offensive coordinator position at Louisville.
Neal told The Oregonian in an interview that while he was humbled by the opportunity, leaving Oregon was just not something he was prepared to do. He also noted that he wants to be able to retire at Oregon. Neal has been with the Ducks since leaving UAB in 2003, coaching the defensive backs under three different head coaches.
During his time at Oregon, Neal has coached 10 first-team all-conference picks and seven NFL draft selections. Senior cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, a returning All-American for the Ducks, will likely be number eight after finishing up at Oregon next season. Ekpre-Olomu was projected to be a first to second round pack in this year's NFL draft. In an interview last week with local media, Ekpre-Olomu told reporters that Neal was pretty much the main reason he decided to stay for another year.
While most of the attention surrounding the Ducks has involved their up-tempo offense, Neal has been a critical piece in the rise of Oregon's defense. In 2013, the Ducks led the Pac-12 in pass defense (204.5 yards per game) and pass efficiency. The year before, Oregon's secondary was downright scary, forcing a school-record 26 interceptions.
There's no doubt that Neal is a huge part of Oregon's success in recent years. By retaining Neal, the Ducks can continue to build on that success they've seen on the defensive side of the ball. When a potential first round draft pick stays with your program primarily because of his position coach, you know you have someone special that needs to be kept around for as long as possible.