GREENVILLE, N.C. – First-year East Carolina Head Football Coach Ruffin McNeill announced the completion of his initial staff Monday with the appointment of Mark Nelson as the Pirates' defensive ends coach and special teams coordinator.
Nelson, who served as defensive coordinator and linebackers coach for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers of the Canadian Football League (CFL) during the 2009 campaign, also brings 17 years of collegiate experience to the ECU program that includes earlier tenures in the Southeastern Conference, Big 12 Conference, Big East Conference and Conference USA.
"Mark brings a vast amount of experience on all levels to our program," McNeill said. "He's always put together strong special teams units, and that reputation has followed him wherever he's been. His relentless and tireless work ethic will be contagious to everyone, especially to those in our kicking game and defensive side of the ball."
Prior to re-joining the CFL, a league in which he coached a total of six seasons, Nelson was Louisville's special teams coordinator in 2007 and 2008 after spending one year at Tulsa as co-defensive coordinator and defensive line coach.
He came to the Golden Hurricane from Baylor, where he spent the previous three campaigns as special teams coordinator and a defensive coach who guided the linebackers for two seasons and defensive ends in 2003.
At Baylor, Nelson's special team units were among the nation's leaders in various categories. BU ranked among the top 30 in kickoff returns (14th), net punting (16th), kickoff return defense (21st) and punt returns (29th) in 2005.
Before his stint at Baylor, Nelson served two seasons at Kentucky where he was the tight ends coach in 2001 before moving across the line of scrimmage and directing the defensive ends in 2002. He also served as special teams coordinator for both seasons at UK, helping the Wildcats set or tie five NCAA, nine SEC and 10 school records in 2002.
Nelson was defensive coordinator and defensive secondary coach at Arkansas Tech in 2000 after spending three years (1997-99) on the Valdosta (Ga.) State staff - the last two as assistant head coach.
In addition to his role as VSU's defensive coordinator and linebacker coach, he also served as interim head coach from October until the end of the 1999 season. Under his tutelage, the Blazer defenses ranked among the best in the Gulf South Conference each year, standing 13th nationally in 1998.
During his collegiate coaching career, two of Nelson's players earned national special teams honors, while others have picked up conference awards. Kentucky's Glen Pakulak was selected the 2002 Mosi Tatupu Award winner as the National Special Teams Player-of-the-Year, and in 2004, Baylor's Daniel Sepulveda was chosen as the Ray Guy Award recipient.
In 2002, Kentucky's Derek Abney was named the SEC Special Teams Player-of-the-Year, and while at Baylor, Nelson coached the 2003 (Robert Quiroga) and 2004 (Willie Andrews) Big 12 Return Specialists-of-the-Year.
Nelson spent five earlier seasons (1992-96) coaching in the CFL, spending one year each with the Toronto Argonauts and the San Antonio Texans, and three with the Edmonton Eskimos. In 1993, Edmonton won the Grey Cup Championship and he was selected as the league's Special Teams Coach-of-the-Year. During his one-year stint at Toronto, the Argonauts also captured the Grey Cup Championship in 1996.
Nelson began his coaching career on the prep level in Oklahoma, where he was the defensive line coach and special teams coordinator at Choctaw High School in 1986. He moved on to Independence (Kan.) Community College for five seasons, which included a two-year run as the program's head coach in 1990 and 1991.
After earning four letters as a linebacker at East Central Oklahoma State, he enjoyed a seven-year playing career in the CFL with the Calgary Stampeders (1980-85) and Saskatchewan Roughriders (1986).
Nelson earned his bachelor's degree in education from East Central in 1980 before following with master's of science in 1988 from Pittsburg (Kan.) State.
He and wife Lori are the parents of three children: Kyle, Kolton and Kayli.
Nelson joins seven previously announced additions - Lincoln Riley (offensive coordinator/quarterbacks), Brian Mitchell (defensive coordinator/defensive backs), John Wiley (associate head coach/linebackers), Brandon Jones (offensive line), Clay McGuire (running backs), Dennis Simmons (outside receivers) and Marc Yellock (defensive tackles) - on the Pirates' staff along with inside receivers coach and recruiting coordinator Donnie Kirkpatrick, who was retained by McNeill.