LINCOLN — If former Texas coach Mack Brown isn’t Mike Riley’s biggest fan in the coaching profession, he’s close. After serving as the keynote speaker for Nebraska’s high school coaches clinic, Brown unpacked a suitcase of praise for the Huskers’ new head coach. Yes, Riley’s nice, Brown said, but he’s more.
“He’s much tougher than people think he is,” Brown said. “He’s tough. He’s disciplined. He’s smart. I think we throw this term around a lot, but he’s as close to an offensive genius as there is. ... I think Mike is perfect for this place.”
A good fit, Brown said, in the way that Tom Osborne and Frank Solich once were. Brown never squared off against Osborne as a head coach, but he finished 4-1 against Solich and 8-1 against Nebraska overall. All but two of those games were decided by seven points or fewer.
Brown’s best memory: when Husker fans gave running back Ricky Williams a standing ovation after the Longhorns ended Nebraska’s seven-year home winning steak in 1998. But UT’s best win might have been the 24-20 upset of the Huskers in 1999, when NU’s three turnovers likely cost it a shot at the national title. Nebraska later beat Texas in the Big 12 championship game.
“Nebraska had the best team in the country,” Brown said.
“Amen!” said former defensive backs coach George Darlington, who coached on the 1999 team. Brown went over to hug Darlington, then continued his chat with the media.
Even if Riley is a good fit for the Huskers, Brown said, fans at Nebraska expect winning. Riley understands that. Brown understood it, too; despite being the second-most successful coach in Texas history, he finally resigned under pressure after the 2013 season. He now works for ESPN/ABC as an analyst.
“All of us have to win games,” Brown said. “Whether we like it or not, the graduation rates and all the things people are talking about aren’t as important as winning. We’re kind of into a semi-NFL model. The top-tier teams, it’s about winning. It’s about filling the stands and making enough money to pay for the other sports.”
Brown said he’ll speak at about 10 coaching clinics this spring and summer. He’ll make a trip to Kansas State and potentially TCU, and he’s already visited Army, North Carolina, Baylor, Virginia and Notre Dame. In a role as a television analyst, Brown said, he’s seen that the media work harder than he realized, especially on live TV.
At 63 — just two years older than Riley — Brown said he’s not sure whether he’ll return to coaching. It would have to be the right fit and it’d have to be a program where Brown’s personality matches what the program needs. The job doesn’t need to be in the Midwest.
“I got a wife who has to say she wants to go,” he said, “but she’d have to come out on the weekends if she didn’t like the place.”
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