- Ted Miller, ESPN Staff Writer
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Mike Riley's shocking defection from Oregon State to Nebraska caught everyone -- and I mean everyone -- flat-footed Thursday, but we have some good news. While just about every coaching hire involves winners and losers, this one does not. Everyone wins. At least today. Tomorrow? We shall see.
Nebraska wins because it has hired a good coach with a good staff who should fit in with the way things are done in wholesome Lincoln. Riley can recruit Texas and California, and his ability to spot proverbial diamonds in the rough will be of great benefit to Nebraska, which has never been a recruiting superpower, even during its best years.
Riley wins because, at 61 years old, he gets a fresh start and chance to build on a strong coaching resume that's taken some hits in the past five years while Oregon State has suffered in comparison to glittering state rival Oregon. Riley will no longer be the underdog in his own state. He'll get A-list facilities, financial support and a strong tradition to recruit to that he's never had before. It will be interesting to see what he's able to make of that, coaching a team that just fired Bo Pelini because he too often won "just" nine games and finished in the bottom part of the Top 25, the equivalent of a successful season in Corvallis.
And Oregon State? It wins because there's been a strong anti-Riley undercurrent building in the past five years as the Beavers logged losing records three times, including this season. While it's difficult to measure what percentage of Beavers fans were truly unhappy with Riley, suffice it to say it was at least a vocal minority. Beyond the struggles on the field, there were grumblings about what amounted to a lifetime contract, which included a built-in rollover every time the Beavers won at least six games.
If Oregon State had wanted to fire Riley, it would have had to pay him off through 2021, something the school probably couldn't have afforded. It also didn't want to fire Riley because he was chiefly responsible for building a longtime national laughingstock into a respectable Pac-10 and then Pac-12 contender. And Oregon State didn't want to fire Riley because he's such a good guy. Now it doesn't have to even consider that burdensome possibility.
As for timing, it's perfect. Riley isn't leaving his team in the lurch as it prepares for a bowl game. The Beavers will be losing several key players on both sides of the ball heading into 2015, including quarterback Sean Mannion, so the new coach will get a fresh start with new schemes. There's still plenty of time to save the recruiting class.
So Riley doesn't have to feel bad for leaving. Oregon State probably doesn't feel too bad for getting left. They can shake hands and wish each other well as Riley walks away. This is a breakup that smacks of both parties agreeing to just be friends. And meaning it.
Nebraska gets a hire with a proven track record of doing more with less instead of a hot coordinator who requires crossed fingers because he might not actually know what he's doing. Further, Riley will never -- ever -- embarrass the Cornhuskers with a postgame rant or infelicitous quote at a news conference.
Riley takes over a program that should be an annual Big Ten contender, particularly in the wide-open West Division. His chances to win his division, conference and reach the College Football Playoff have advanced dramatically. If there was an unsatisfied, ambitious part inside of him that wondered what he could do at an A-list program, which there undoubtedly was because he made this move, he'll get a chance to answer that in the next three to five years.
And Oregon State? Beavers fans get change, which can be exciting, particularly with no bowl game ahead. That's what many wanted and believed the program needed to take a step forward in the Pac-12's North Division. At the very least, it's something to talk about. It might prove stressful, but here's a guess that athletic director Bob De Carolis will make an interesting hire.
Interesting? What about Ed Orgeron, the ebullient former USC assistant and ace recruiter? He certainly would represent a different direction from Riley. What about a hot coordinator, such as Arizona State offensive coordinator Mike Norvell or UCLA offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone or Wisconsin defensive coordinator Dave Arenda? Or a second-tier head coach who's doing well, such as Memphis' Justin Fuente or Fresno State's Tim DeRuyter or Utah State's Matt Wells?
Heck, why not a guy suspected of being a Nebraska target: Oregon offensive coordinator Scott Frost. Or, even weirder, Bo Pelini is available!
That intrigue will give previously disgruntled Beavers fans something to debate with excitement and hope. While a significant percentage of Oregon State fans supported Riley until the end, it is fair to say that a mire of resignation to mediocrity did threaten the Beavers while many other Pac-12 programs were on the uptick.
So, today, everybody wins. Nebraska gets Riley, Riley gets a new opportunity and Oregon State gets change.
Tomorrow? Will there be enough winning on both sides of the ledger to sustain today's hope? Or either side?
We shall see.