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Nebraska's Mike Riley shows right stuff in recruiting haul

2/3/2015

LINCOLN, Neb. -- In an homage to their frantic and fruitful first few days on the job at Nebraska, Mike Riley’s coaches in future years may want to leave the comfort of their offices for a week every year at the height of recruiting season and drag their work to a conference room.

There, if linebackers coach Trent Bray and running backs coach Reggie Davis need to discuss a prospect, they can bypass cell phones and electronic messaging, forget even about walking down the hallway.

Sometimes, the most simple method to eliminate chaos is the most effective. And so it went for the Nebraska coaches in the days after Riley’s Dec. 4 hiring.

On the eve of signing day, with Riley set Wednesday to unveil his first recruiting class at Nebraska, the successes of the past 60 days in Lincoln can be traced to those two weeks of December madness.

The coach, four of his assistants and a core group of support staff uprooted their lives at Oregon State and immediately established a home base in that conference room amid the third-floor administrative offices at Memorial Stadium.

“We were all there, engaged with one purpose,” said Dan Van De Riet, Nebraska associate athletic director for football operations who worked with Riley at Oregon State for 14 years. “So it was actually really good.”

Their teamwork and efficiency proved vital in retaining the majority of commitments secured by the former staff and in laying the groundwork for a productive final recruiting stretch.

One floor below the makeshift nerve center in December, Nebraska’s departing assistants prepared the Huskers for the Holiday Bowl. Riley took his partially constructed staff, in their first hours together at Nebraska, straight to meet the outgoing coaches.

“They knew we were there,” Bray said last month. “We knew they were there, so why hide and pretend you’re not there?”

From those opening days, Riley attacked challenges. His first results of substance, on display Wednesday, are a testament to the coach’s skill as an executive and illustrative of the trust he places in hires at various levels of the football program.

Often, the first group of recruits signed by a coach after a postseason change is not indicative of his style or the game plan for future recruiting classes. The new guy gets a pass, more or less; it happened at Nebraska after moves that followed the 2003 and 2007 seasons.

No such luxury exists for Riley as Nebraska looks to improve on seven consecutive nine- or 10-win seasons.

Sure, he’ll get a grace period to learn of the culture and expectations.

How about until the end of spring practice?

The Huskers’ class ranks 32nd nationally and fifth in the Big Ten. Given more time, Riley and his recruiters figure to sign groups with more flash and bang. More important than its ranking, though, this class doesn’t feel rushed -- as so many do when built after a coaching change.

Riley and his coaches found fits. They kept key pieces, headlined by Colorado defensive backs Eric Lee and Avery Anderson, who enrolled in January, twin defensive linemen Carlos and Khalil Davis and defensive end Daishon Neal.

Nebraska added a four-star talent in offensive guard Jalin Barnett and scored a legitimate recruiting win over Michigan in keeping tight end Matt Snyder. They added pledges from the states of California, Florida, Texas, Georgia and Louisiana, which bodes well for next year and beyond.

On social media, the Huskers showed an innovative spirit.

They sought to address a potential weakness within the borders of their own state as not a single coach on Riley’s staff has recruited extensively in Nebraska. A call to Paul Limongi, president of the Omaha Metro Coaches Association, was among the first placed by Van De Riet, the administrator who flew to Nebraska with Riley on his first trip two months ago.

“Reaching out is key,” said Limongi, coach at Omaha’s Burke High School. “It was really refreshing to hear from him. It seems like they’re headed in the right direction.”

Scott Strohmeier, coach at Iowa Western Community College, said he, too, has engaged in preliminary conversation with Nebraska about growing the relationship between his program -- one of the nation’s most successful at the juco level -- and the nearby Huskers.

The new Nebraska staff won’t abandon its diverse recruiting strongholds for local kids. But a key to their success involves finding a balance.

“When you recruit local, the kids are a little more invested,” offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf said. “I do think it’s important to start here and work out from there.”

It seems, so far, Riley and his coaches have done their homework -- aided, perhaps, by a two-week, conference-room session of mind-melding at the start.