In a very surprising move, Nebraska went ahead very discreetly and hired Mike Riley of Oregon State to be their next head coach, hoping he’ll be the one to take them back to the level of contending for conference championships and making the college football playoff, something Bo Pelini failed to do.
Riley wasn’t on the shortlist of names of the popular candidates, but Nebraska saw something in him that others didn’t. The interesting thing about this hire that it would have raised less eyebrows three or four years ago. Oregon State have gone 5-7 this season, missing out on a bowl game for the second time in four years. Riley has had seasons of nine wins three times and even one with ten wins in 2006. At Corvallis, that’s as good as it gets, but is it good enough for Nebraska?
The reason Pelini was fired according to the administrators themselves was that he didn’t win any big games. Nebraska were a nine or ten win team constantly under his reign, but the four losses thing, losing to Wisconsin every time when it mattered and not getting to be part of the nation’s elite again hurt Pelini’s stock to a point in which it no longer mattered how popular he was with players and with most fans – the decision makers, boosters and alumni wanted more from a school that has one of the proudest histories in college football. But is Riley it?
Shawn Eichorst sees Riley as someone who fits in with all the criteria they were looking to fill: There was one coach who fit all the characteristics that I was seeking to lead our tradition-rich football program. Mike Riley has a proven record of success, a sound approach to football and teaching, an understanding of the educational mission of our university and the integrity and values that we cherish at Nebraska. I have no doubt that Mike will assemble a tremendous staff and lead our student-athletes to win Big Ten titles and compete for national championships in the years ahead.
Riley was under contract with the Beavers until 2021. In Corvallis, making a bowl game on most seasons and providing the annual upset of a top 10 team, like their win over Arizona State this season, seems to keep the university happy. Remember, before Riley came to the school, their last winning season was in the 1970’s. He didn’t turn them into a Pac-12 juggernaut, but his record of 93-80 with eight bowl games and four ranked finishes made him untouchable.
Bringing in recruits to Oregon State has never been easy, but Mike Riley did the best possible in a tough situation. Known for his pro-offense style and work with quarterbacks, Riley comes in as a sharp contrast to Pelini who was a defensive minded hire at the time. Riley was the longest tenured coach in the Pac-12, with a total of 14 seasons with Oregon State, including in the late 1990’s before a three-year stint in the NFL before going back to college ball.
His teams have had five wins over top 10 teams since he returned to the school, most famously in in 2006 and 2008 over USC, ranked number one in the nation in 2008 before falling to Oregon State. He comes now to a program with a bigger name, a lot more resources and probably an easier way of recruiting players, although turning two-star athletes into pros, while very nice, isn’t the goal. The target is turning Nebraska once again into a conference power and to start contending for titles instead of falling short each time.