The Ruffins – Greg and Reginald – later discovered they’re cousins. Reginald grew up in Meridian, Miss., and Greg’s grandfather is from that city. For the past decade they’ve grown closer, but now that Greg Ruffin is the new coach at Paine College don’t expect Reginald – the head coach at Miles College – to take it easy on his new Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference rival.
“He’s got to go by ‘Greg’. He can’t go by ‘Coach Ruffin,’ ” Reginald Ruffin said. “He hasn’t established himself in the conference yet.”
Greg Ruffin is the new guy on the SIAC football block.
The 39-year-old married father of three is resurrecting a Paine football program that’s been dormant for 51 years. While the Lions will play this fall as a club team in a one-year transition period, they’ll play on the NCAA Division II level in 2014 as an SIAC member.
Ruffin, introduced at a mid-March news conference, was tasked at that time to breathe life into a program that played its last game in 1962. Paine compiled a 16-4-1 record from 1938-41, but the program fell on hard times. In 1955, the Lions started a 36-game losing streak that ended three contests shy of matching the national record of the day.
Ruffin said his program will be better because he’ll have 28 scholarships – around the SIAC average. The former Paine football program didn’t offer scholarships.
The new team begins in August with conditioning. Ruffin will have a coaching staff of about 10 and a team of 130 to 150 players. And he’ll be prepared with a game plan.
Ruffin said he plans to implement his brand of blue-collar ruggedness, along with a balanced run-pass offensive attack.
“When you start a football team from scratch, I believe you’ve got to put an emphasis on getting the kids tough first,” he said. “Once you get those rascals tough, it doesn’t matter what you put in. But if you start out finesse, that’s what you’re going to have the next three or four years.”
Sports has always been a big part of Ruffin’s life.
In the early 1980s, he and his brothers would dive into piles of leaves imitating Georgia running back Herschel Walker. In high school, he played quarterback and served in the ROTC. Upon graduation, he enrolled at Wentworth Military Academy – an early commissioning academy. When he arrived, the school was in its first year of football after dropping the sport in the 1950s.
He left after one year, but kept his military commitment. Ruffin spent nine years in the National Guard working in aviation as a truck driver and later as a crewman, preparing Black Hawk helicopters for flight.
After leaving Wentworth, Ruffin entered Lane College as a 5-foot-11, 248-pound quarterback with 4.5 speed in the 40. He was moved to linebacker, where he played until the third game of his sophomore campaign. When the starting fullback quit, Ruffin seized the opportunity to move back to offense. In that third game, Ruffin was inserted in the second quarter.
“The first play, I killed the linebacker on the lead and Fred Lane breaks a 65-yard touchdown run. The rest is history,” he said. The next two seasons, Ruffin started with running back Lane, who finished his college career with 3,612 rushing yards.
After graduating, Ruffin spent two years as a high school assistant. Then, he worked as a college assistant at Kemper Military Community College, Lane and Lincoln. After working one season as the offensive coordinator at Benedict, Ruffin was pegged to be the head coach at Shaw University, which was resurrecting its program after 23 years. He went 7-3 in his lone season there.
After working on the Division II level, Ruffin served six seasons as an assistant at Division I Jackson State. In 2012, he worked as the recruiting coordinator and tight ends coach at Texas Southern.
When Ruffin decided to take over the Paine program, he considered it a serious endeavour, one he’s very familiar with.
“I’ve been doing this my whole life in some form or fashion,” he said. “I’ve lived it.”
When football starts, he said he wants his players to learn how to play disciplined and wants them to learn his system. Paine will play four exhibition games against prep schools, two in October, two in November.
“You’ll be surprised at how sound this team is going to be in two years,” he said. “I’m building for 2014.”
In the first full season, there’s no guarantee Paine will play Miles College – the Lions likely will be placed in the East Division, while the Golden Bears reside in the West. When the teams do meet, it’ll be Ruffin Bowl I. But don’t expect the cousins to be friendly during game time.
“Off the field it’s all about mutual friendship,” Reginald Ruffin said. “On the field, it’s going to be competitive. We’re there to win. That’s just in the Ruffin bloodline.”