Mendenhall Adds Eight to Coaching Staff
Dec. 12, 2015
Virginia football head coach Bronco Mendenhall announced today (Dec. 12) the hiring of eight assistant coaches. Former East Carolina head coach Ruffin McNeill will join six members of the current staff at BYU: Robert Anae (Ah-NIGH), Mark Atuaia (Ah-too-igh-ah), Jason Beck, Garett Tujague (TOO-jay), Nick Howell and Kelly Poppinga (PUH-ping-guh). UVA wide receivers coach Marques Hagans remains on the staff.
McNeill will be the assistant head coach/inside linebackers coach, while Anae will be the offensive coordinator and inside receivers coach. Atuaia will be the running backs coach, Beck will be the quarterbacks coach, Tujague will the offensive line coach, Howell will be the secondary coach and Poppinga will be the special teams coordinator and outside linebackers coach. Hagans will continue to be the Cavaliers’ wide receivers coach.
The six assistants following Mendenhall from BYU have a combined 35 years of service with the Cougar program.
“The staff I have assembled to coach our team at Virginia represents the qualities that will help us be successful and work towards achieving our goals,” Mendenhall said. “As a group, these coaches bring great personal diversity and backgrounds, are experienced teachers and they have a remarkable history of success during their careers. My selection principles were to find coaches who display fanatical effort, are fiercely competitive and compassionate teachers, are dynamic developers of young men and who possess amazing professional competence.
“The opportunity to bring six of my current staff members from BYU is very important. It provides the continuity that is critical for this coaching transition and it demonstrates how vested these coaches are in the plan we have for the Virginia program. I look forward to announcing the final staff member in the near future and to working with this group of coaches after we complete the task at hand at BYU.”
McNeill comes to Charlottesville after spending six seasons (2010-15) as the head coach at his alma mater, East Carolina. McNeill went 42-34 during his time at ECU and the Pirates played in four bowl games. East Carolina recorded 10 victories in 2013, which ranks as the second-highest single-season win total in school history. During the 2013 season, McNeill’s team swept in-state rivals North Carolina and NC State for the first time in the program’s history.
East Carolina’s first campaign in the American Athletic Conference in 2014 was memorable as McNeill’s squad raced out of the gate with a 6-1 record and resided in the Associated Press Top 25 polls for six weeks after consecutive triumphs over ACC members Virginia Tech (28-21) and North Carolina (70-41). The Pirates used an explosive offensive unit that rated among the nation’s top five in passing (third), first downs (fourth) and total yards (fifth), while on defense, only 10 teams at the FBS level were better against the run than the Pirates who allowed just 111.8 yards per game.
Before returning to his alma mater, McNeill concluded the 2009 season as the Red Raiders’ interim head coach by rallying No. 21 Texas Tech to a 41-31 victory over Michigan State at the Valero Alamo Bowl. McNeill spent 10 seasons on Mike Leach’s staff at Texas Tech, three as the defensive coordinator (one as interim).
McNeill has been a defensive coordinator for 10 seasons during stops at Appalachian State (1993-96), UNLV (1997-98), Fresno State (1999) and Texas Tech. His collegiate coaching career started in 1985 as a Clemson graduate assistant after five seasons of coaching at Lumberton High School (N.C.). McNeill’s first full-time coaching job was at Austin Peay in 1987. He moved to North Alabama in 1988 and then enjoyed his first of two stints at Appalachian State (1989-91) as the linebackers coach. After one season at ECU as the defensive line coach in 1992, McNeill returned to Appalachian State as the defensive coordinator.
McNeill graduated from East Carolina in 1980 with a bachelor’s degree in education and later earned a master’s degree in secondary counseling from Clemson in 1987. McNeill and his wife, Erlene, have two daughters and a granddaughter.
During his career, McNeill has previously spent seven seasons working together with fellow new hire Anae at UNLV (1997-98) and Texas Tech (2000-04).
Anae has been Mendenhall’s offensive coordinator and inside receivers coach in nine of his 11 seasons at BYU. Anae helped BYU finish the 2015 regular season ranked No. 21 in passing offense after directing the 2014 Cougar offense to a No. 14 ranking in scoring offense, putting up 37.1 points per game, the most points by a BYU team since the 2001 season.
In 2013, Anae led the BYU offense to a No. 14 national ranking, including a No. 10 finish in rushing offense, setting a school record with 3,475 rushing yards. He helped coach two 1,000-yard rushers in Taysom Hill and Jamaal Williams.
Anae was at BYU from 2005-10 and returned in 2013 after spending the 2010 and 2011 seasons at Arizona under Mike Stoops and Rich Rodriguez, serving as offensive line coach both seasons and run game coordinator under Stoops. Arizona’s offense ranked in the top 16 both years and was in the top 25 in passing both seasons as well. Arizona produced the No. 3 passer nationally with Nick Foles, who averaged 360.8 passing yards per game in 2011 before being drafted in the third round of the NFL draft by the Philadelphia Eagles. The Wildcats’ offensive line, under Anae’s direction, blocked for the nation’s leading rusher in 2012 as Ka’Deem Carey totaled 1,929 yards and 23 touchdowns on 303 carries.
A member of BYU’s 1984 national championship team, Anae achieved a 43-7 record during his playing days under Hall of Fame coach LaVell Edwards. Anae’s coaching career began as a graduate assistant at Hawaii in 1986-87 and at BYU from 1990-91. Anae’s other coaching stops have been at Ricks College (1992-95), Boise State (1996), UNLV (1997-98) and Texas Tech (2000-04).
Anae and his wife, Liane, have two sons and a daughter.
Atuaia joined Mendenhall’s BYU staff in 2013 as the running backs coach. In 2013 BYU’s run game ranked No. 10 in the nation averaging 267.3 yards per game. A former running back at BYU during the 1991 and 1994-96 seasons, Atuaia first joined the BYU athletic department in June 2012 as the assistant to the athletics director for student services. He previously worked as the assistant to the dean of Student Life at BYU. He accepted that position after graduating in 2011 with both a doctor of jurisprudence from BYU’s J. Reuben Clark Law School and a master of public administration from the George W. Romney Institute of Public Management at BYU’s Marriott School of Management.
During Atuaia’s four-year playing career, BYU achieved a 39-11-2 record, won three conference titles and was ranked in the final top-25 national rankings three times. In addition, the offense was ranked in the top 10 nationally during three of his four seasons.
Atuaia and his wife Elizabeth, an accomplished recording artist and lead singer for the 1980s pop group The Jets, are the parents of seven children.
Beck, a former Cougar quarterback and offensive intern on Mendenhall’s BYU coaching staff, returned to Provo in 2013 with six years of coaching experience, including stints at LSU, Weber State and Simon Fraser.
Beck helped true freshman Tanner Mangum break all BYU freshman QB marks in 2015 after taking over for injured Heisman hopeful Taysom Hill in the season opener. Mangum earned 2015 Freshman of the Year honors from the Touchdown Club of Columbus (Ohio) after he was the only freshman to finish the regular season with more than 3,000 passing yards and a 60 percent completion percentage.
In 2014, Beck helped BYU successfully navigate a season-ending injury to Hill in the season’s fifth game as Hill and Christian Stewart combined to total 3,623 yards and 32 touchdowns on the year, including 25 TDs by Stewart. As a sophomore quarterback in 2013, Hill passed for 2,938 yards and 19 TDs while also rushing for 1,344 yards and 10 TDs under Beck’s tutelage.
Beck is married to former BYU soccer standout Jaime Rendich, and they have a daughter, Peyton.
Tujague has been the offensive line coach at BYU since 2013 after serving 15 years at the College of the Canyons in Santa Clarita, Calif., from 1997-2012, the last six as head coach. Under his direction, the COC Cougars earned a 43-25 record and received five bowl invitations in his six seasons. Under Tujague’s guidance, BYU center Tejan Koroma earned freshman All-America honors in 2014 after helping BYU rank No. 14 in the nation in scoring.
A former BYU left guard, Tujague protected 1991 Heisman Trophy winner and consensus All-American quarterback Ty Detmer. A native of Pleasanton, Calif., Tujague and his wife Cami are the parents of three children.
Howell served on Mendenhall’s BYU staff in several roles over the last nine seasons, most recently as the defensive coordinator and secondary coach. Howell first came to BYU in 2007 as a defensive intern. From 2008-09 Howell was a defensive graduate assistant. Howell’s first full-time position on Mendenhall’s staff came in 2010 as the outside linebacker coach and from 2011-12 he was the secondary coach and a special teams coach.
Howell helped the defensive unit at BYU finish the 2015 regular season ranked No. 6 nationally in sacks per game and No. 15 in tackles for loss after the Cougars ranked No. 20 in rushing defense in 2014.
Despite having to defend more plays than all but four teams nationally in 2013 due to BYU’s up-tempo offensive system, the Cougar defense ranked No. 12 nationally in yards-per-play defense, No. 16 in pass efficiency defense and No. 22 in scoring defense. Howell helped the BYU defense rank No. 3 in total defense (266.1 yards allowed) and No. 10 in passing yards allowed (179.2 yards per game) in 2012.
In 2011, he helped the defense rank No. 15 in pass efficiency defense, allowing a rating of 112.58. In that same year, the Cougars ranked No. 13 in overall defense.
A native of Ogden, Utah, Howell earned a master of arts in education with teaching certification from the University of Phoenix in 2007 after receiving his undergraduate degree in history from Weber State in 2005. Howell and his wife, Brooke, have four children.
Poppinga has spent his entire collegiate coaching career at BYU, which began in 2009 as a defensive intern on Mendenhall’s staff. In 2010 Poppinga was a defensive graduate assistant and interim outside linebacker coach. His first full-time position came in 2011 when Poppinga was elevated to linebacker coach. Since 2013 Poppinga has been BYU’s special teams coordinator and outside linebackers coach.
Poppinga helped outside linebackers Kyle Van Noy and Alani Fua advance to the NFL in recent years with Van Noy selected by the Detroit Lions in the second round of the 2014 NFL Draft and Fua earning a spot with the Arizona Cardinals in 2015.
Poppinga assisted one of BYU’s best-ever defenses in 2012 when the Cougars finished No. 3 in the nation in total defense and ranked in the top 10 in six different defensive categories.
As a player, Poppinga was an All-Mountain West Conference linebacker and Academic All-MWC honoree at BYU under Mendenhall while helping the Cougars achieve back-to-back conference championships in 2006 and 2007. He spent the 2008 season with three NFL teams before going to Super Bowl XLIII with the Arizona Cardinals. Poppinga and his wife, Rebekah, have three daughters.
Hagans remains on staff as the Cavaliers’ wide receivers coach, a position he has held since 2013. Hagans started his collegiate coaching career as a UVA offensive graduate assistant from 2011-12.
Hagans was a four-year letterwinner at UVA from 2002-05 and currently is No. 7 all-time in passing at UVA with 4,877 yards. Hagans is No. 5 all-time at UVA in total offense with 5,779 yards and his 2005 season ranks No. 4 all-time with 2,802 total yards. Only his predecessor, Matt Schaub (2002 & 2003), and current quarterback Matt Johns (2015) had better seasons in the UVA annals in regards to total offense. The St. Louis Rams selected Hagans in the fifth round (144th overall) of the 2006 NFL Draft. He spent three seasons with the Rams before being picked up by the Kansas City Chiefs for the 2009 campaign. Hagans finished the 2009 season with the Washington Redskins and retired in 2010.
During the 2015 season, he coached second-team All-ACC selection Canaan Severin. Under Hagans’ guidance, Severin finished the regular season ranked No. 3 in the ACC with 759 receiving yards, a total which ranks No. 15 all-time for a single season in Virginia history. Severin’s 1,383 career receiving yards is also ranked No. 15 in the UVA record book.
Hagans resides in Charlottesville with his wife, the former Lauren Swierczek, a former Cavalier women’s basketball player. The couple has two sons, Christopher Dex and Jackson Watford.