NCF Nation: Mike Riley
Three years ago, Papuchis earned a promotion to defensive coordinator.
The coach and his wife, Billie, are parents to four children, all born during their time in Lincoln, the youngest three days before the Huskers’ season-opener in August.
"My family, all they know is Nebraska,” said Papuchis, who will coach his last game at Nebraska on Saturday against USC in the National University Holiday Bowl (8 p.m. ET, ESPN). “One way or another, that’s coming to an end Saturday night. So if it’s going to come down to an ending, it might as well end on a good note.”
New Nebraska coach Mike Riley, introduced Dec. 5, has announced plans to retain secondary coach Charlton Warren. The remaining holdovers from the staff assembled by Pelini, who was fired on Nov. 30, are likely left to coach this week and leave.
Pelini is now the head coach at FCS-level Youngstown State.
The NCAA granted Nebraska a waiver that allows the old staff – under contract through January 2016 -- to run practices this month. Meanwhile, Riley’s hires, headquartered one floor above the football offices at Memorial Stadium, went to work on recruiting.
Difficult circumstances, for sure, said interim coach Barney Cotton, who worked with Pelini at Nebraska for the past seven seasons and in 2003 as the duo served under former coach Frank Solich as coordinators.
“I wish I could make it all go away,” Cotton said of the often-painful transition.
Cotton has accepted a position as offensive coordinator for new UNLV coach Tony Sanchez. Nebraska offensive line coach John Garrison is also headed to Las Vegas.
Papuchis is still looking, along with offensive coordinator Tim Beck. The remainder of the staff includes Rick Kaczenski (defensive line), Ross Els (linebackers), Ron Brown (running backs) and Rich Fisher (receivers).
“It’s been unique to say the least,” Beck said last week. “But I’m alive, and I get a chance to get out here and coach. I just coach. I enjoy it. I enjoy the kids. It’s what I do, and it’s all I know.”
In addition to Warren, Riley hired four assistants from his former school, Oregon State – defensive coordinator Mark Banker, linebackers coach Trent Bray, special teams coach Bruce Read and offensive line coach Mike Cavanaugh.
The new head coach watched the Huskers practice in Lincoln, and he said he’ll be an interested observer during the Holiday Bowl.
Meanwhile, the old staff is tasked to keep the Huskers focused for this game.
“The thing that I’ve tried to emphasize with the players,” Papuchis said, “in their career, they’ll only get four opportunities at the most to play in a bowl game. And every one of those opportunities, you’ve got to maximize and cherish.
“Despite all the things that are surrounding the program and however they felt about the transition, this is about them. The kids sometimes get lost in all the discussion.”
Papuchis, now 36, has tried to focus entirely this month on preparing Nebraska to face the 24th-ranked Trojans.
“I don’t ever want to cheat our players and cheat this program,” he said.
“At the same time, obviously, I’ve got four little ones and a family to take care of, so I’m trying to do the best I can as far as balancing what’s going to come after [Saturday] and what is taking place.”
Beck said he’s leaving Nebraska with no regrets.
“I think we did it with class,” the offensive coordinator said, “and I think we did it with humility, integrity. We are who we were from the beginning to the end. We’ve never changed. We’ve believed in each other and worked hard doing it.”
At Nebraska, Beck, the school’s highest-paid assistant at $700,000, and Papuchis worked in a spotlight that shone more brightly than on the position coaches. More of the same is likely on tap for Saturday, the first game for both without Pelini since 2007.
Papuchis said he’s “confident” about his future. And in this final game at Nebraska, he said, “there’s no real reason to be conservative.”
“I don’t mind saying this at all,” Papuchis said. “I look at this as an opportunity -- another chance to build on a résumé, to play a great team. And hopefully we have a good defensive showing, and that will help going forward.”
There was also the public reveal last week, presumably initiated by someone among them, of a volatile audiotape from Pelini’s final meeting on Dec. 2 with the players.
How, after all of that, can the Huskers be ready to play a football game? It’s a question for which they offer few deep answers. The past is behind them, quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr. said.
“I’m focused on our staff,” he said, “these players and getting ready for USC.”
From the alternate perspective, the events of the past three weeks may have galvanized the Huskers.
As Armstrong suggests, they are driven to play well for interim coach Barney Cotton and the other eight assistant coaches, seven of whom likely will not remain at Nebraska after this week.
Riley plans to keep only secondary coach Charlton Warren.
Essentially, this is the last chance for the Huskers to work with the coaches who recruited them. It’s a motivating factor.
So is the desire to show well in front of Riley. The former Oregon State coach has watched from afar as Nebraska practiced this month and figures to use the Holiday Bowl as another chance to start evaluating his 2015 roster.
Mainly, though, they want to end this season well for each other.
“The things we’ve faced over the month, we’ve put them behind us,” safety Nate Gerry said. “We’ve kind of realized that Saturday is the last time we’ve got together, and we’re just going to use our energy to go out there and play well for each other -- not really worry about anything.
“Play for the guys who brought you to Nebraska. That’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to give it all I’ve got, like I know they’re going to do for me.”
If you get past the forest of subplots, an interesting matchup awaits.
Nebraska, 9-3 and winless in four games against the Trojans – most recently a 49-31 home loss in 2007 – has a chance to finish with its best record since 2003, incidentally the season after which coach Frank Solich and his first-year defensive coordinator, Pelini, were fired.
And parts of this game, to be telecast at 8 p.m. ET on ESPN, look especially appetizing.
The Huskers the lead the nation in opponent completion rate at 47.5 percent; USC is No. 1 in completion percentage at 70.1. Nebraska ranks 10th in yards per opponent pass play and ninth in third-down conversion rate allowed; the Trojans rank 18th and fourth in the respective offensive categories.
Safe to say, though, Nebraska has not faced a foe like USC. Michigan State, the most productive passing offense among the Huskers’ 12 opponents, ranks 38th nationally.
“It will be interesting to see what happens,” defensive end Greg McMullen told reporters last week. “That could probably benefit us by them throwing a whole lot.”
McMullen said he thinks the Nebraska defensive line can pressure USC quarterback Cody Kessler.
Likely, it depends somewhat on the effectiveness of fellow end Randy Gregory. The junior, an elite NFL prospect, missed the season finale. He battled injuries most of the season and returned to practice Friday in Lincoln.
Nebraska also faces injuries on the offensive line. At center, Mark Pelini and top backup Ryne Reeves are out, as is Zach Sterup at right tackle.
“We’ve got to make sure we win our one-on-ones,” Armstrong said. “They play a lot of man – make you beat them on the outside. And they’ve got a great, physical defensive line.”
No matter the individual battles, for Nebraska, the Holiday Bowl, after four practices this week in California, will boil down to a question: Can the Huskers find the right mindset?
“It’s not about how I want to end,” said senior I-back Ameer Abdullah, allowed extra time to heal from a knee injury that slowed him in November. “It’s about how we should end things.”
It's humbling for a fan base to see a coach voluntarily leave its program. It's especially humbling to see it happen twice in the past three years. It's especially, especially humbling when coaches leave a winning, established program that is coming off appearances in the Big Ten championship game.
Bret Bielema and Gary Andersen clearly didn't see Wisconsin as a destination job. Bielema wanted to chase a championship in the nation's toughest conference at a program flush with resources. Andersen became fed up with Wisconsin's admissions office and the difficulty of getting his targeted players into school. Their eyes wandered and they left town.
Chryst is coming home to Madison, where he spent most of his childhood, his college years and part of his adult life as a Badgers assistant in 2002 and again from 2005-11. He intends to stay for a while. Those close to him say Wisconsin is his dream college job and that he would only leave to lead an NFL team. Coincidentally, Chryst did the reverse Gary Andersen, leaving Oregon State's offensive coordinator post for Wisconsin's after the 2004 season.
Let's not be delusional about the Big Ten or modern-day coaches. The days of Woody Hayes, Bo Schembechler, Barry Alvarez, Hayden Fry, Joe Paterno and others who saw Big Ten programs as career endpoints likely are over. Kirk Ferentz is completing his 16th season at Iowa, while Pat Fitzgerald just finished his ninth at Northwestern and Mark Dantonio wraps up his eighth at Michigan State in the Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic. None seems to be in a hurry to leave on their own accord, but they're more the exceptions in today's game.
Expecting any coach to spend 15-20 years in one place isn't realistic. But the Big Ten also can't have coaches voluntarily leaving every season. A Big Ten coach has chosen to depart in each of the past three seasons: Bielema (2012), Penn State's Bill O'Brien (2013) and now Andersen. Of the three, only O'Brien left for a definitive step up, the NFL's Houston Texans.
Look at Big Ten basketball, which boasts elite coaches -- Michigan State's Tom Izzo, Wisconsin's Bo Ryan, Ohio State's Thad Matta and Michigan's John Beilein -- who view their jobs as destinations. That's what Big Ten football needs.
Chryst puts a stop in the revolving door at Wisconsin, and several of the Big Ten's top programs could be entering a period of coaching stability:
Nebraska: Whether Cornhuskers fans like the Mike Riley hire or not, Riley isn't going anywhere. He sees Nebraska as a last stop, and despite his age (61), he still has great energy for the job. His predecessor, Bo Pelini, didn't voluntarily leave Nebraska, but there were incessant rumors during his tenure about him looking at other jobs. Some think if Nebraska had won the 2012 Big Ten title game instead of Wisconsin, Pelini would have landed at Arkansas instead of Bielema.
Ohio State: Urban Meyer quickly has rebuilt Ohio State into a national power and a playoff contender for years to come. There's always some concern about Meyer's longevity at a job, but he's not mentioned for NFL positions and seems completely settled in Columbus. He might not coach the Buckeyes for 10-15 years, but he's seemingly not on the verge of an exit, either.
Penn State: Amid the excitement of his arrival, James Franklin repeatedly noted that Penn State had work to do with its roster deficiencies, which showed up throughout the fall. Franklin likely will see this process through, and, like Meyer in Ohio, he has roots in Pennsylvania. He has plenty of job security, and unless he becomes frustrated with the post-sanctions effects, won't be looking to leave.
Michigan is the wild card here, but the Wolverines should be seeking some stability in its next coach. After having just three coaches between 1969 and 2007, Michigan will have its third in eight seasons next fall. Jim Harbaugh is the home run hire for the Wolverines, but not if he returns to the NFL in two or three years. Michigan needs an elite coach who wants to stick around, and it shouldn't compromise either criteria. Brady Hoke would have stayed in Ann Arbor forever, but he wasn't getting it done on the field.
Stability doesn't automatically equal success. After a very disappointing regular season, Iowa's Ferentz finds himself in a category of long-tenured, mostly successful coaches -- Georgia's Mark Richt, Oklahoma's Bob Stoops, South Carolina's Steve Spurrier, Oklahoma State's Mike Gundy -- who some want to see move on. Stability can become stale, but cycling through coaches every few years almost guarantees struggle.
Amazingly, Wisconsin has avoided a downturn despite its coaching turnover. Now it has a coach who can keep things rolling without constantly looking for the next best thing.
Michigan's impending hire should calm the Big Ten coaching carousel for a while. And with relative stability at the top programs, the league could be on the verge of a step forward.
Pelini's former assistant coaches may have needed it even more, according to Barney Cotton.
"It was great for our coaching staff to get out here and be with our players," said Cotton, the eight-year Nebraska assistant and interim coach. "This was really good for us."
The 58-year-old Cotton, a former offensive lineman at Nebraska and Omaha native, served as run game coordinator and tight ends coach under Pelini. He and eight other assistants, unsure of their futures, are set to remain on staff through the Dec. 27 National University Holiday Bowl against USC.
Before Wednesday, the last time they gathered with the Huskers, a celebration followed Nebraska's 37-34 overtime win at Iowa to cap a 9-3 regular season.
"What I'm drawing more on is my strength," Cotton said. "I really have a very simple job, and that's to help our players finish out the best way, and to help this coaching staff stay cohesive and united and keep loving each other."
Cotton sent each of his three sons to play at Nebraska, including Jake, a senior offensive guard and co-captain this season, and sophomore tight end Sam.
The elder Cotton said he nearly broke down three times in a 20-minute meeting with the Huskers after Athletic Director Shawn Eichorst addressed the team over the decision to fire Pelini at the end of seven seasons that included no fewer than nine victories each.
Many of the Nebraska players have struggled to accept the move.
"I've learned a lot of life lessons since I've been here," senior cornerback Josh Mitchell said Wednesday. "The biggest one that Coach Bo taught us was to focus on the process. It's about being a man. Sometimes things in life just don't go the way you want them to go, but you've got to move on. Life goes on."
Mike Riley, introduced Friday in Lincoln as Pelini's replacement, met for about 30 minutes last week with Cotton. They talked in general, Cotton said, about Nebraska football and state of Nebraska. Cotton said no members of the old staff have learned if they would receive a chance to coach for Riley.
The new coach, on the road recruiting through the contact period that ends Sunday, will not be involved in Nebraska's bowl preparations. He is believed to have added four assistants at Nebraska from his previous job at Oregon State.
Nebraska received a waiver from the NCAA, similar to Ohio State in 2011, that allows it employ two coaching staffs. Riley's new staff cannot be involved in coaching this month; the Cotton-led group cannot recruit.
The practice on Wednesday was the first of three this week. Nebraska will conduct a normal series of practices next week and travel to San Diego before Christmas for the National University Holiday Bowl.
Despite the circumstances, the Huskers said they will not lack organization or motivation this month.
"I know the team is fired up right now," Mitchell said. "I know they want to have a great time. Everyone is just excited to get away from everything and play some football. As competitors, you've got to go out, strap it up and have some fun."
This trip marks the Huskers' fourth to the Holiday Bowl and third since 2009. Nebraska lost to Steve Sarkisian-coached Washington 19-7 in the 2010 Holiday Bowl, sandwiched between regular-season Nebraska wins over the Huskies in 2010 and 2011.
Sarkisian is at the end of his first season USC, the Huskers opponent in this year's Holiday Bowl. The Trojans own a 3-0-1 record against Nebraska, including wins in 2006 and 2007.
"We're going out there, expecting to win," senior safety Corey Cooper said. "Guys have a lot of different reasons why they want to win. It."
Cotton said he laid out four objectives for the players.
"Honor God with your effort," he said. "Honor your teammates with your effort. Honor coach Bo with your loyalty and love and support, along with your effort. And let's reveal our character one last time together in the Holiday Bowl."
Of the old staff, "we do know what our future is."
"We know that we've got one last chance together," Cotton said. "That's our future here. And I hope and pray that everybody gets an opportunity to do what they want to do next year."
Over the past few years, when the frustrations of a vocal segment of Oregon State fans would crescendo after a poor performance, and they would demand the defenestration of long-time good guy coach Mike Riley, more than a few Beavers fans as well as media types would question the exit strategy. As in: Who's going to come to Corvallis and do a better job? And if said coach is found, is he going to stick around?
Wisconsin's Gary Andersen is a pretty darn good answer. And, just like Riley bolting for Nebraska, no one saw this one coming.
Anderson is no sure thing. He has some notable warts on his résumé and hasn't won much of anything, other than a 2012 WAC title at Utah State before that football conference went under. But he's also won 30 games over the last three years and he's bolting a Big Ten power for Oregon State after just two years. So he wants to come to Corvallis and lead the Beavers, post-Riley. He wants to leave a state where he's the lead dog playing in an 80,000-seat stadium and, instead, square off as an underdog against a rich state rival that has become a national power.
Well, everybody wins other than Wisconsin, which has now seen its past two coaches bolt for jobs that didn't seem like promotions. After leading the Badgers to three consecutive Big Ten titles, Bret Bielema actively, though quietly, sold himself to Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long before leaving after the 2012 season. Anderson went 19-7 in two seasons with Wisconsin, winning the Big Ten's West Division this year, but he obviously didn't view Madison as a destination job.
Why would Andersen leave? Maybe he prefers the West Coast. Maybe he's concerned about the long-term power of the Big Ten compared to the Pac-12. Maybe he thinks Urban Meyer and Ohio State are on the cusp of Big Ten domination. Maybe he doesn't like Wisconsin's demanding academic standards. Maybe he thinks Wisconsin is cheap when it comes to anteing up salaries for assistant coaches.
Maybe he'll answer that question during a news conference Friday in Corvallis, though my guess is he's not going to be too forthright when it comes to kicking dirt on a program he left in the lurch.
Andersen has a long history as a Utah assistant coach and is good friends with Utes head coach Kyle Whittingham. He's a defensive specialist, and his coordinator at Wisconsin, Dave Aranda, is highly respected. That's good because the Beavers will be rebuilding their defense in 2015. His offensive coordinator at Wisconsin, Andy Ludwig, however, has a mixed-bag history in the Pac-12, having coached at California, Oregon and Utah.
As for the warts on his résumé we previously referred to, you can start with his last game -- a 59-zip loss to Ohio State. That was such an atrocious showing there were conspiracy theories afterward that the Badgers threw the game so the Buckeyes could get into the College Football Playoff and boost the Big Ten. That's about as ridiculous as saying Pac-12 officials conspired to give Arizona State a victory over Andersen and the Badgers in 2013 through comedically bad late-game decisions.
The Badgers also blew a 17-point third-quarter lead at LSU to open the season and lost to a Northwestern team that fell to California and went 5-7 overall. In 2013, with a BCS bowl berth in sight, the Badgers were upset by Penn State on the season's final weekend.
That said, Andersen is the sort of respected hire that will generate some much-needed energy and optimism into the Beavers' program. It also helps that the athletic department announced a $42 million makeover of the Valley Football Center not long before word of Andersen's hiring broke. Ah, Pac-12 money doing its thing, boosting facilities and the top-to-bottom quality of conference coaching staffs.
Of course, Andersen has got to find a way to quickly close the Civil War gap. He's got to figure out a way to be more competitive with the Ducks. While Beavers fans probably won't expect a berth in the CFP in the next three years, they probably will demand a victory over Oregon in that span.
Still, after a period of stagnation under Riley and then the uncertainty of "Who's next?" Oregon State appears to be emerging into a hopeful place. For a team sitting home during the postseason as its rival eyeballs a national championship, that's about the best a fan base can expect.
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Just 22 of them perhaps explain the union between the fourth most-winning program in NCAA history and a 61-year-old man -- seemingly set, just 24 hours prior, to coach out his days at little-engine Oregon State.
"If you’re going to do it one more time, this is obviously a great chance to do that," Riley said before an audience of 150 amid the grandeur of the skybox lobby on the third floor of the towering west side of Memorial Stadium. "It’s a great place."
Through These Gates Pass The Greatest Fans in College Football.
The words adorn the 91-year-old home of Nebraska football. The pride in this place oozes from the stadium’s concrete exterior, with five national-championship teams built inside it.
It is on days like these, after the turbulence of the past 15 years, filled with heartbreak and embarrassment and tantalizing moments under three failed coaches, that the pride matters most.
Shawn Eichorst, Nebraska’s second-year athletic director, pushed in all his chips this week on a gamble that Riley can tap into that pride and find a formula to recreate a championship contender.
Why? Because, in Eichorst’s view, the great place now has a great man to lead its program.
"I want us to compete for Big Ten championships and national championships," Eichorst said. "But those pursuits are meaningless unless we do it the right way -- with class, sportsmanship and integrity."
Friday was not so much an indictment of Bo Pelini, fired Sunday after seven nine- or 10-win seasons, as a melding of two like minds.
Pelini and Eichorst were cut from different cloths. The former coach was unwavering. He was direct. If people didn’t like him, that’s life. For Eichorst, positivity is a necessity. He thrives on coordinated efforts. Synergy, if you will.
That is not to suggest one method is bette than the other. Simply, they’re different. And Eichorst is the boss, so his way wins.
Now that he has his guy -- the guy Eichorst believes will best fit Nebraska -- the Huskers need to win, too.
"You’re looking for someone who fits Nebraska," Chancellor Harvey Perlman said. "What are we like? I don’t think we have much ego. I think we work hard. I think we are competitive, and Mike seems to have all of those traits."
Perlman and Eichorst met Riley on Tuesday in San Francisco. The coach was in the area to recruit. Perlman was there on business. Eichorst flew in.
As soon as they finished, the Nebraska administrators agreed. He was the man.
"He is what you see,” Perlman said. "He’s a genuinely nice guy. He cares about people."
Surely they noticed, like everyone else on Friday, that Riley is stunningly disarming.
Inside a football fortress, he told stories with a calmness that felt out of place -- of how he played as a freshman on the 1971 Alabama team that lost 38-6 to mighty Nebraska in the Orange Bowl, or of receiving a call, as coach of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers some 25 years ago, from former Nebraska coach Tom Osborne to recommend a player.
It was like listening, as a kid, to your dad read from a history book.
"I felt pretty good about him," said Nebraska cornerback Daniel Davie, who attended a brief meeting Thursday night between the coach and his new players. "And I know when guys met him, they felt pretty good about him as well, so we’re looking forward."
The Huskers and their fans, though, will need time to adjust to Riley. He’s not only different in demeanor from Pelini but from most every football coach you’ll encounter.
They are an intense breed. Riley has an intense side, too, according to the people who know him. And those who just met him this week.
"Mike and I go about our business somewhat similar," said Eichorst, about whom Nebraskans knew next to nothing before his visibility increased tenfold over the past five days, "but don’t for a second think that we aren’t competitive.
"Nobody wants to win more than we do, but there’s a way you go about doing that."
Riley, signed to a five-year deal that pays $2.7 million for the first 12 months, talked minimally Friday about his plan.
He’s not sure about his staff at Nebraska, if he’ll keep any leftover Pelini assistants, or if he will open practices to the public here, as Riley did at Oregon State. He said he wants to mold his offense, traditionally a pro-style system at Oregon State, to the talent in place.
He’ll recruit nationally, for sure, and marvel at the resources available in comparison to his 14 seasons in Corvallis.
"I tend to be one of those guys that looks at the bright side," Riley said. "So what you have you enhance, and what you don’t have, you try to make better."
The athletic director nodded from the front row of chairs, sitting alongside Riley’s wife, Dee, in a Nebraska sweatshirt and Nike shoes tha wi’ll soon have to be tucked away.
"We’re going to have success," Eichorst said. "I know that."
He knows, more than anything, that he got his guy. And he’s betting that the pride of Nebraska football -- its players and fans -- feel the same way soon.
You know Mike Riley as the universally liked, overachieving, player-developing, Prius-driving, bicycle-riding coach who made Oregon State relevant but never a conference champion. He spent time in the NFL and had opportunities to take jobs at brand-name college programs (Alabama, USC) but never did until Thursday, when he shocked the college football world by accepting the Nebraska job. He's a "wow" hire, as Tom Shatel writes, but not a doing-backflips hire.
Less of you know Jim McElwain, the new head man at Florida. He did a tremendous job building Colorado State into a Mountain West contender, and previously excelled under Nick Saban as Alabama's offensive coordinator. Like Riley, McElwain is a quarterback guru with some NFL experience, spending the 2006 season coaching the Oakland Raiders' signal-callers. But a rock-star hire he is not, even though the 52-year-old will upgrade Florida's sleepy offense and should get the Gators back in the SEC East mix.
I like both hires and think both men will have success at their new programs. But fans want big names, flashy hires, and these two are not.
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LINCOLN, Neb. -- What a stunner.
Mike Riley? For a few seconds Thursday morning, I thought the email announcement was a fake. It arrived at 11:25 a.m. Riley, the 61-year-old Pac-12 coaching veteran who spent 14 years over two stints at Oregon State -- three seasons with the San Diego Chargers sandwiched between -- is coming to take over the program at Nebraska.
Eighteen minutes later, I heard back from Tom Osborne’s office. The former coach and athletic director in Lincoln, with whom I had requested time to discuss the situation earlier this week, “is not doing any interviews right now,” according to his assistant.
What could he say? Osborne will want to hear the news conference, set for Friday morning at Memorial Stadium.
Everyone here will want to hear the news conference.
Let’s just say the immediate reaction was not overwhelmingly positive.
But give him a chance. There’s much more than meets the eye to Riley, according to the people around him.
On the surface, this hire, while completely out of left field, follows a predictable pattern. Eichorst found a coach in Riley who emits a vibe that could not appear more different than Pelini.
Riley is Mr. Positive Energy. Pelini was quite the opposite.
“You’re not going to hear a foul word of out of his mouth,” said Steve Fenk, an associate athletic director at Oregon State whose arrival at the school predates Riley’s first stint.
“Here at Oregon State, we were one of the few schools that had open practices," Fenk added. "You would see kids out here. You would see retired people, people with dogs. He will talk to anybody. He will stop and sign autographs. I realize Nebraska is a bigger deal in terms of fans and alumni than Oregon State, but he’s old school. You’re not going to see him lose his cool. He’s very even tempered.”
Tom Goossen, coach at Arroyo Grande High School in California, sent three players to Corvallis, including quarterback Brent VanderVeen, currently a sophomore at Oregon State.
Riley got active early in their recruitment, Goossen said, and stayed involved.
“There was a calmness to him that I respected,” Goossen said, “and I know it resonated with the kids he recruited from our school.”
So yeah, he’s the anti-Pelini.
Gil Brandt of NFL.com tweeted Thursday that Arkansas coach Bret Bielema, an old cohort of Eichorst, turned down the job at Nebraska a day before it went to Riley. Bielema more closely fits the profile of Pelini.
If Pelini and Bielema are a pair of bulls in a china shop, Riley is the friendly Beaver in a coffee shop.
He drives a Prius, drinks nonfat, no-foam lattes and wears flip-flops to the office in the summer.
While he probably couldn’t run for political office in Nebraska, Riley’s approval rating will soar if he wins football games.
That’s what the skeptics must remember Friday as they watch Riley smile for the cameras and appear smooth doing all that failed to come naturally to Pelini: He wasn’t hired to be anti-Bo.
If that’s what it looks like, fine. But a sharp edge exists to Riley’s persona.
“You would not always know he’s the head football coach,” Fenk said. “But don’t let that fool you. Underneath, he’s very competitive.”
And he's likely a good fit for Nebraska amid today’s college football landscape. Many of the candidates for whom Nebraskans longed in this search would question the situation in Lincoln -- low-population recruiting base, unfavorable weather and a lack of championships over the past 15 years.
When Riley took over in Corvallis in 1997, the Beavers had endured 26 straight losing seasons. He guided them to eight bowl games, winning six. His stadium at Oregon State seated 45,000, and the Beavers struggled to escape the shadow of Oregon.
The Huskers recently expanded Memorial Stadium past 90,000. They sit firmly in the spotlight every day in Nebraska.
Riley’s new home will look to him like a kingdom of riches.
“I think he’ll be fine,” said Corvallis High School coach Chris McGowan, who sent several players to Oregon State and regularly interacted with Riley. “He’s been there and done that. He knows the limelight. And he’s really a smart guy, a good communicator. I think he knows what he’s getting into, and I don’t think he’ll have a problem with it.
“Obviously, you’ve got to win games, and the pressure is on big time there.”
The pressure is on right away to show the state of Nebraska that he’s not just a guy who looks and acts differently than the old coach.
Before he gets to the honeymoon, give Riley a chance to prove this surprising marriage makes sense.
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.
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.
1. This team, unlike its predecessor, is at times more lucky than good.
2. The Seminoles are still pretty darn good, even with all their injuries.
3. Jameis Winston is an excellent crunch-time quarterback.
4. FSU likely has too many warts to repeat as national champion.
5. Jimbo Fisher is an unquestionably brilliant coach.
Let's focus on the last item. Fisher's coaching acumen often gets overlooked, often because of what Fisher says and does away from the sideline.
He out-coached Louisville's Bobby Petrino in the second half Thursday, pushing the right buttons, especially on a third-and-6 from Louisville's 35-yard line late in the fourth quarter. Winston found a wide-open Freddie Stevenson, who scooted in for an easy, euthanizing touchdown. It's another reminder that Fisher is at the top of his game.
Fisher's clout as a recruiter also showed up as three freshmen, led by running back Dalvin Cook, reached the end zone. And his Seminoles team, despite myriad mistakes and continuing controversy, won its 24th straight game.
So why is it so hard to celebrate Fisher? Because of the other stuff.
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Duke’s David Cutcliffe edged Oregon State’s Mike Riley as the nation’s most underrated coach in ESPN’s weekly college football poll of the FBS head coaches, #1QFor128.
Cutcliffe received 13 percent of the votes in the poll conducted by ESPN's Brett McMurphy, compared to 11 percent for Riley.
East Carolina’s Ruffin McNeill was third (8 percent), followed by Mark Dantonio (7 percent). Minnesota’s Jerry Kill and Kansas State’s Bill Snyder, each receiving 5 percent of the votes, tied for fifth. Navy’s Ken Niumatalolo and UTSA’s Larry Coker, each with 4 percent of the vote, tied for seventh.
Rounding out the top 13: Boston College’s Steve Addazio, Rice’s David Bailiff, Northwestern’s Pat Fitzgerald and Washington’s Chris Petersen (3 percent each) and Ball State’s Pete Lembo (2 percent).
In all, 39 coaches received votes.
Of the coaches from the Power 5 conferences (ACC, Big 12, Big Ten, SEC and Pac-12), Dantonio and Riley received the most votes (14 percent each). Cutcliffe and McNeill (11 percent each) tied for third among the voting from Power 5 coaches, followed by Addazio, Bailiff and Kill (8 percent each) and Fitzgerald (5 percent).
Of the coaches from the Group of 5 conferences (American, Conference USA, Mid-American, Mountain West and Sun Belt), Cutcliffe was the overwhelming favorite with 15 percent of the votes. McNeill, Niumatalolo, Snyder (7 percent each) and Coker (5 percent) rounded out the top five voting from the Group of 5 coaches.
Of the 128 FBS coaches, 97 participated in this week’s poll.
How Power 5 coaches voted
- Mark Dantonio, Michigan State: 14 percent
- Mike Riley, Oregon State: 14 percent
- David Cutcliffe, Duke: 11 percent
- Ruffin McNeill, East Carolina: 11 percent
- Steve Addazio, Boston College: 8 percent
- David Bailiff, Rice: 8 percent
- Jerry Kill, Minnesota: 8 percent
- Pat Fitzgerald, Northwestern: 5 percent
- David Cutcliffe, Duke: 15 percent
- Ruffin McNeill, East Carolina: 7 percent
- Ken Niumatalolo, Navy: 7 percent
- Bill Snyder, Kansas State: 7 percent
- Larry Coker, UTSA: 5 percent
- Mark Dantonio, Michigan State: 3 percent
- Jerry Kill, Minnesota: 3 percent
- Chris Petersen, Washington: 3 percent
» More team previews: ACC | Big 12 | Big Ten | Pac-12 | SEC.
Previewing the 2014 season for the Oregon State Beavers:
2013 record: 7-6, 4-5 in Pac-12; beat Boise State 38-23 in Sheraton Hawaii Bowl
Final grade for 2013: C-minus. The Beavers had a dynamic pass-catch combination in Sean Mannion and Brandin Cooks but little else. The back-loaded schedule probably made the season feel worse than it was, but a 7-6 finish was a win or two below realistic preseason expectations.
Key returnees: QB Mannion, OL Isaac Seumalo, TE Connor Hamlett, S Ryan Murphy, CB Steven Nelson, DE Dylan Wynn, LB Michael Doctor
Key losses: WR Cooks, DE Scott Crichton, CB Rashaad Reynolds
Instant impact newcomers: DT Jalen Grimble, OT Bobby Keenan
Chances to win the conference (ESPN.com Stats & Information): 0.9 percent
Best-case scenario: 9-3
Worst-case scenario: 6-6
Over-under win total (Bovada): 7
Biggest question mark: How does the offense -- read: Mannion -- adjust to life after Cooks, who was the best receiver in the nation in 2013? Who steps up at receiver, and does the running game get going?
Most important game: Nov. 22 at Washington. The Huskies embarrassed the Beavers in Corvallis last year, and this game might determine the No. 3 spot in the Pac-12 North.
Upset special: Oct. 25 at Stanford. The Cardinal might be looking ahead to their Nov. 1 date at Oregon, and the Beavers played Stanford tough in 2013.
They said it: "There's no doubt about it. I think I actually became a little bit of a victim of it myself early because we were so good throwing the ball for six games." -- Oregon State coach Mike Riley, on whether he passed too much in 2013