Check out a complete transcript of Friday's press conference with new Husker football coach Mike Riley and Nebraska Athletic Director Shawn Eichorst. Text provided by the Husker athletic department.
* * *
Nebraska football coach Mike Riley
“Hello everybody. Thank you (Director of Athletics) Shawn (Eichorst). Thank you Chancellor (Harvey) Perlman for the opportunity to be here. We are grateful for that. Dee and I have been around the block, but not for a while. So this is exciting. We are excited to be here. I am excited to coach this football team. We are excited to be in Lincoln and be a part of the university and to be a part of what is known as the greatest fan base in college football. Pretty special stuff. Very excited about that. Appreciate just the fact that I am standing here right now. I am very grateful for that.
I love coaching football and I have coached now for 40 years. As I have gotten more experience, instead of getting older, I have really enjoyed what is so important to a university, and that is the growth of young men in all ways. I think that there are lots of choices that are made out there. We spend all of our time as parents, teaching our children to make right choices, that’s what we get to do at the university level with these students and student-athletes is continue to help them make good choices to grow. That growth, when talking about that, people usually go right into football. We certainly want that, but it is talking about all the areas of what we try to do at the university. It is football, school, and ultimately it is life. What a great time to be involved with these young men at the age they’re at. I am thankful for being a part of their lives at this age.
For me personally, I never knew what else there was to be besides a football coach. I grew up on a bus when my dad was a high school coach, in Northern Idaho. I was always in the locker room. My dad was a high school history teacher, football, baseball and basketball coach and that’s what I was going to be. I went to college and got my history degree, and I have never taught history. That’s always what I thought was going to be my occupation, was that.
I have to say here that I am very thankful for all the folks that I got to work with at Oregon State. Every place that you get to go to in your life, you bring something from. I got a lot more from Oregon State than they got from me. It is a great place and I appreciate that opportunity. They gave it to me twice. I was there two different times. Shawn is right. I think that these people and this place, it just for me, to make this move, it seemed like the right time. However you get to that point, hearing upon interest when talking to him and when talking to the Chancellor. When you put that all together it just felt like this might be the right time.
I am thankful for that interest and mine is the same. We are in this together to build young men and win championships, and they don’t have to be exclusive of one another. We are going to do it right. We are going to work hard. One of the basic ingredients for success is hard work. That always feels good, when you can accomplish something after doing that.
Thank you all for being here. Thank you once again for this great opportunity. I am going to be hiring a staff. I have had a great group of people. I always look at this thing as I have all these guys, and it is my job to make sure I put experts and good people around them. So, I have had really good people do really good work with me for a while. I like that stability. I know who they are. I trust them. With that, we are also going to look at other areas for other additions to this staff. It’s a big, big part of what is going to happen in the next few years, is putting this staff together. Football-wise and people-wise and making sure it is the right fit for what we do on the football end of it and also what we need on the university side of it. That is pretty exciting stuff.
I won’t be coaching in the bowl game. I will have fun being a fan. That will be different. But we will obviously begin the recruiting process for our new staff and not have a long time ahead of us to do it. We will probably start this afternoon, that’s how fast this thing will go. So those are the first things coming up; staffing, recruiting and then we head toward the really great part of the year which is spring practice.”
On choosing to coach at Nebraska rather than retiring from Oregon State:
“Dee and I have never talked about that “retirement” word. It didn’t really enter into anything more than opportunity and maybe the right place at the right time. That’s probably it. I think if I summarized it that would be it. I always thought Oregon State was going to be my last job, but it’s the place, but it’s also the people. People are key in making a decision like that. The folks that I’ve met with and the knowledge that I’ve had about Shawn.”
On previous knowledge of Nebraska before taking this job:
“My knowledge of football about Nebraska goes back to what everybody knows of Nebraska football nationally. That was me, except I was a freshman on that team that Johnny Rogers ran all over in the Orange Bowl against Alabama. So I am deeply respectful of history and tradition in our world of college sports. Nebraska has it. As a kid and football junkie growing up, it is easy to know about Nebraska in that way. I have great admiration for the history of coaching that has gone on here. I have always kept one of Coach Osborne’s books in my bookshelf that I will draw from as I go down for the team meeting of the day. A great example for coaches is Coach Osborne and obviously a track record of success on the field. I didn’t mention this and I need to. I have great respect for the work that Bo (Pelini) did here. I understand this profession and know how it goes. I grew up in it. My dad later became a professional coach. I have seen all the different parts. I know there are hard parts. I know it is hard for the players right now with the uncertainty of who this next guy is and what’s going to go on here. But I respect what Bo has done and the work they have put into the University of Nebraska football program. Like I said, just in general, the great football history is pretty special. You can’t buy tradition, you can’t buy history like this. So for me it is unique and special.”
On the difference between Nebraska and Oregon State in terms of resources:
“Well this was a quick concept. You know, I think that resource-wise I tend to be one of those guys that looks at the bright side. So what you have you enhance, and what you don’t have you try to make better. So it’s not really comparing or contrasting because that’s not important to me. This thing did go very fast. That’s always hard in our profession. Sometimes some jobs take months and all that, but that’s not the way it works in our world. With an additional contact with Shawn, it was a short period of time. What day was that, Tuesday? Monday until today. It didn’t take too long, which is probably good. There’s a trust there when you do these types of things. It’s important. So that’s what we did.”
On who he will bring with him as assistant coaches:
“You know I’d rather not say. Some of them I intend to bring don’t even know it yet. So it would be better if I didn’t mention their names. If we could hold off on that, I don’t think it will be too long before we can announce the guys. I don’t feel comfortable right now.”
On if he plans to bring his pro-style offense to Nebraska or if he will evaluate players first:
“I think that we’ve kind of run a smorgasbord of offense, but I guess people call it a pro-style because we huddle and have gone underneath the center a few times actually. But we set a lot of times through the years in the shotgun. I’m kind of very interested according to the ability of the players to morph into a little bit more of what we might can do. I’m excited and have been looking at that for a bit. We certainly have to establish an identity and the identity has to be a blend of a system of what the players are comfortable with and good at. I think that’s coaching. You take your talent and you make sure it’s the right fit for the system. Then you adapt that system as best you can to the team. And of course the quarterback is probably the No. 1 place to look at that. So I’m excited. We’ve had a good foundation. We’ve had really good runners in our program. Tailbacks. We have four of them that are on a wall back in Oregon State that combined for a total of 16,000 yards. We just had a quarterback that broke the Pac 12 career passing record. We had a receiver last year that broke the single-season receiving record. We’ve had a variety of different ways to do it. It all depends on who they are and what we emphasize to move forward. That’s probably the biggest deal for me. I haven’t had a chance to watch these guys play yet. I really don’t know. That’s kind of a fun process but it will take some time to do that. And getting the staff together to do that. There are still quite a few unknowns about the system. But yeah, that’s what we’ve done before.”
On if he has met with any Husker assistants, and if he plans to interview any of them:
“Yes I plan to talk to them. I met with Barney (Cotton) last night for a bit. And it was great. He was very helpful. I think that with this staffing it’s hard for these guys because they’re invested here and coaching the game. And I don’t know any of them very well. We’ll see if there’s possibility of a plan, but I can’t make any statement or promises about that. I need to look at the big picture. But yes, I would love to talk to them about what Barney and I talked to him about last night.”
On his thoughts about playing against Big Ten teams:
“You know this whole idea of now being in the Big Ten and coaching in this conference is also a part of the appeal actually. I love going to different places and playing in different stadiums. We’ve played in Oregon State, we’ve played down in LSU, back at Penn State. We’ve played in, I don’t even know the name of it, "Jerry’s World" down in Dallas. We’ve done that. I love it. I used to bug Dee when we were driving across the country we’d stop and look at the stadium. And she could not ever understand that. But I also think this is a great conference with great history. It will be interesting and hopefully fun as we win to play those new teams.”
On why people should have confidence that he can bring the program back to a championship-caliber level:
“Well I think overall the preparation for football, the ability to recruit and to fit in the talent of our team with what we do will give us a great opportunity to win. What you’re always searching for is prepping yourself to win. We have a couple of times positioned ourselves a couple times at Oregon State at the last game of the season, if we won we would go to the Rose Bowl. So we’ve been on the brink of that in that place. And I’m very confident in the history and the performance in general with Nebraska football, with hard work and what we do as coaches, we’ll be searching for that opportunity to win championships.”
On if the fun practices and practices open to fans and the media will continue in Nebraska:
“Oh boy, those water balloon fights were not my idea. But I actually like them. I’ve got some younger folks that have been in the program that will probably come with us that think it’s kind of just a break in the day during fall camps for the players. You know for me in the old days, we wouldn’t do that and take 10 more minutes of practice and 10 more minutes of meetings. But I found it to be a breath of fresh air. I won’t make any commitments to this right now, but we have had open practices at Oregon State. It’s smaller than this place, so I usually know most of the people that are watching practice. And I’ve had a lot of retired coaches that would come sit down in a chair to watch practice for the day. And I’ve always thought that I want to be that guy one day for someone to let me in and watch practice. But I don’t know. I know it gets a little unruly here. So if there is too many people then we’d probably have to shut it down. But that’s been our history.”
On the message he had for the players last night in the meeting:
“Well I had fun meeting them. I saw a group of very attentive young men. I visited with them a little bit and just told them I was proud to be here. That I know that they’re facing a time of uncertainty like I mentioned earlier. And that’s not going to go away just because we’re talking about it right now. It’s going to take time to get past all of that. It all goes with knowledge and then trust as time goes on. So we talked about things like that. And then I was very impressed, a hundred-something guys it seemed like, came one by one and we shook hands, said who they were and said it was nice to meet me. That’s just a small thing, but I was really impressed by it. From my deal and vantage point, it was a very comfortable meeting. And I hope it was for them. Because like it is for my players back at Oregon State and my players here, it’s two different forms of transition and it creates an uncertainty for them with the people that have recruited them, coached them, etc. So we have to start building that.”
On what he thinks the challenges will be for him here:
“Things will be different, but one thing I’ll tell you is that recruiting has really grown for everybody in a national sense. Looking at the roster, it seems like there are guys from everywhere here, which is probably the way it has been historically. But for us, like last year, we’ve had experience. We had a receiver from Knoxville, a lineman from Chicago, a lineman from a little town in northeastern Iowa, a guy from Minnesota, a linebacker from Oklahoma, some guys from Texas, three guys from Hawaii. So our roots are out there pretty big in recruiting already. And I think that’s probably more the name of the game for everybody these days because of the access we have now and the video we have from all over the country. It’s really crazy from just a few years back. Big time difference.”
On the decision making process to come to Nebraska:
“At this point I had seen it on TV. That’s how out of state I was. We talked on Tuesday, then I met with the Chancellor on Wednesday. Spoke on Monday? Monday and Tuesday, yes. Things picked up and accelerated to a point of an idea. You know, we had heard enough and you could see enough on the internet of what the place is like, not that that’s always very accurate. But we kind of trusted the situation through the history. Pretty easy to do it that way. It’s a matter at this point on if you want to do something. It’s getting to the point that at the stage of my career, it was an opportunity to try something one more time. You know, we’ve had a great experience and I have enjoyed every one that I think have all built to who we are as people, as a family and as a career. So if you’re going to do it one more time, this is obviously a great chance to do that. It’s a great place.”
On how he thinks he has improved as a head coach despite struggles in the last five years:
“That’s a great point. I think that one thing that you have to get good at sometimes is that we’ve been pretty atypical. We were 3-9 one year. So what I think you have to do is you have to stand as head coach, show some stability in your team and the fact that you can come back and you can do better. It might be the next week, it might be the next season. But you have to be able to that and teach your players how that works. Losing a game or not having a great season. Another thing you have to do is give them concrete stuff on how it’s going to get better. So that’s what we’ve always had to deal with. Hopefully we have gotten better at it as we’ve gone along. In this sport, no matter who you are, you’re going to have cycles. And you have to know how to handle those cycles. Whether it’s really well in how you handle that or if you’re having a tough time. You’ve got to be able to work with your team, give them concrete evidence on how it’s going to get better, and then teach it. So through the years, I would say that’s always something you have to have in hand and get better at. That’s something we’re always trying to do. Find a better way to teach, how we are going to do things. Just as I have recruited while I was at Oregon State, it’s all very competitive. So we’re trying to get the best players all the time and coach them the best that we can. We want players that are the right fit as a person, with the character we need in the program. And then you just keep coaching them and teaching them to be ready for good times, hard times, in-between times and all that.”
On what he is looking for in a staff and if Nebraska ties are important to that:
“You know I think the most important thing for me is to gain a trust of who this person is in two ways. It comes from any different source. Nebraska’s current staff, the staff I’ve been with and whoever else might be out there, they have to have two qualities. They have to be experts. If it’s a linebacker coach, then that’s got to be his expertise and he has to be good at it. And the other thing to be the right guy is that he has to treat people right. And I told the players last night, that means more than what that just says. It has to do with discipline, it has to do with growth and it has to do with a real vision with helping this young man. So those two things have to be part of it. It doesn’t matter without those two things who this guy is. This is just what we need to get started on this staff. And then obviously I’ll have that with all of my coordinators. I’ve always had a full-time special teams coach. That’s all he’s done as a coach. I’m pretty sure we will do that again.”
On reaching out to past coaches:
“Yes. I’d like to reach out to all of them. I actually sit by Frank Solich. We are on the AFCA Board together so we’ve sat next to each other often and talked and I really like and appreciate him. I feel like I know Bill Callahan. I’ve followed his football and enjoyed that. The same with Coach Osborne. He wouldn’t remember this but when I was coaching in the Canadian League, I got this call, picked up the phone and the guy says, ‘Hi Mike, this is Tom Osborne,’ and I was sure someone was pulling a prank on me. That was my contact with Coach Osborne. He had called me about a player he was recommending to our team in the Canadian team. I think that’s great. The history of the coaches that are here. I look forward to getting to know everybody. I know what kind of place this is just because I follow college football and I know the people that have been involved in the coaching and teaching here.”
On hitting recruiting class hard:
“It’s hitting right now really hard. In the recruiting area, we have to go because there is really one more week where you can do home visits then it shuts down for quite a while. We’ll try to do as much as we can in this next week, make some plans in the month of January and then go forward from there. We’ve got to get started on some of that.”
On Nebraska's walk-on program:
“I think, historically, it’s been one of the neat things about Nebraska football. The tradition of so many walk-on players and contributions they’ve made to the program. Believe me, I am all for it. Personally, I have some great walk-on stories. I think it’s great. I think they add tons to the program. You absolutely need them in the program I think to function properly and so many guys find their niche. If they fit physically and work hard, they’ll find something that they do. I showed up to Oregon State in 2003. There was a walk-on receiver, this was spring practice. He was going to be a redshirt sophomore. In fall camp he started making some plays. We had an All-American receiver he was playing behind and I said ‘why don’t we move this guy and see if he can win the job,’ and he did. He caught like 44 passes for 1,000 yards. That same guy, the walk-on, he got a scholarship after that and two years later, he won the Biletnikoff Award as the top receiver in America. In that same year, we had a walk-on kicker that won the Lou Groza Award, and my second year at Oregon State, we had a walk-on quarterback. This was the year at Oregon State they had 28 straight losing seasons. I had encouraged this man to walk-on from Glendora, California. He looked good in practice and we were still looking for a quarterback. I said, ‘we should let this guy play. Let’s put him in.’ I put him in the start of the second. Well he didn’t get in until midway through the second quarter of that game. He threw for 469 yards in two and a half quarters. He was a walk-on quarterback, nobody knew who he was. He later led that team, Oregon State, to the Fiesta Bowl and he’s coaching now. When I first met him, he was not being recruited by anyone. All he wanted was to find a place where he could go and play football and mostly prepare himself to be a coach. Little did he know, or little did anybody know was that this guy would become one of Oregon State’s all-time greatest quarterbacks and when he walked in the door when I wanted to meet him, I had seen him on film, he threw the ball pretty well. He was just this scrawny little 5-10 kid, so your first thought is, ‘this is not a college quarterback.’ I know Nebraska probably has a ton of neat stories like that.”
* * *
Nebraska A.D. Shawn Eichorst
“Thank you all for coming out today as we usher in a new era of Nebraska football. As I stated just five days ago, I have high standards and expectations for all of our athletic programs. I want us to compete for Big Ten Championships and National Championships. But those pursuits are meaningless unless we do it the right way: with class, sportsmanship and integrity.
We will win with young men and women who want to earn their degrees and who will represent us the Nebraska way. Nebraska is a special place. Our passionate students, administrators, facility, our successful alumni, our fans, our generous supporters, and our fellow Nebraskans deserve the best. Our student-athletes are at the core of everything we do, and we are blessed to have some of the nation’s finest coaches teaching our student-athletes.
Today, we add another outstanding coach and teacher to this great university. Mike Riley is a tremendous football coach, a man of high character and virtue, a wonderful husband and father, and the son of a football coach. Mike played for coach Bear Bryant at Alabama. During his time they won three Southeastern Conference titles and a national championship, before embarking upon a coaching career that has spanned almost four decades. As an assistant coach and as a head coach, both at the collegiate and professional level, his teams played sound physical football, and Mike has a track record of evaluating and developing talent.
Speaking to knowledgeable football people around the country, Mike is held in high regard for his football intelligence on both sides of the ball, for his approach in teaching the game, for his ability to get the most out of his student-athletes. He is a great recruiter, a great motivator, and I am confident his staff will only complement his exceptional abilities.
Simply, we will win with Mike, but more importantly our student-athletes will have an amazing experience under his leadership. Mike has had many opportunities to leave Corvallis for other destinations, but chose to stay in his adopted hometown and build a solid and respected winner. It would take a special place and a perfect fit for him to move, and we are fortunate that he found that in Nebraska.
We welcome Mike, and his wife Dee. His daughter Kate and grandson Eli, who are tired and sleeping at the Eichorst house. His wonderful son, Matt, and daughter-in-law, Lydia, are in Austin, Texas. Matt works at the University of Texas. We have to get him turned around. There will be many opportunities for Nebraskans to meet Mike in the coming months, and I hope you will all take the time to get to know him. This is a special man. It is my great pleasure to introduce to you, Nebraska football coach Mike Riley.”
After Coach Riley spoke and answered questions, Eichorst returned to the podium to answer questions:
On how hire unfolded:
“Hopefully it was a surprise hire because it was a pretty quiet and fast search. One of the things I have said since I’ve been here is to look, listen and learn. That not only applies to Nebraska, but that applies to every place I’ve been. My job on a day-to-day basis is to put this University in a good position to be successful on all levels. Mike’s been on my radar for probably 10 years. When I was down in (South) Carolina, when we had a coaching change, Mike came on the radar mainly because he’s a great football coach. He’s an elite coach. He’s a teacher. He has unique skills and abilities relative to the fact that he’s coordinated on both sides of the ball and you’ve heard what he thinks about special teams. The process went pretty quickly for me. I talked with him Monday night. After meeting with the team, I took a deep breath and I don’t think I have slept since then. This is Mike’s characteristics and things I want in a coach. I wasn’t looking for people, I was just looking for qualities in people. It’s a tough business to move top elite coaches from power five conferences. By Monday morning, I was fixed on Mike. I reached out with him to see if he’d be interested in the job. He was. At that point, I recruited my tail off like I’ve never done before. I was focused. I was locked in. I knew what I wanted. It just so happened that Harvey (Perlman) was in San Francisco. I asked Mike where he was, he said he was recruiting in San Francisco. So I said this might be meant to be. I got ahold of Harvey and asked if he’d spend some time with Mike and he said yes. We had a great visit on Tuesday. Mike left the room and I looked at Harvey and said ‘I think this is our guy.’ He said yes. I called Mike back and we talked about whether he’d be a good fit. By Wednesday night we had a ball coach.”
On concern about Riley’s record:
“I have zero concern about that. It’s not always about the outcome, it’s about people. We have an elite football coach who now has an incredible history behind him, incredible resources, a passionate fan base. I know there is uncertainty in our fan base, but we have a good football coach, and I think folks should be ready and excited to unite and take this program to where it should be. I’m looking for a person who I want to work with our young people. We’re going to have success. I know that and you can hear it in Mike’s voice. He is a football coach. He’s not defined by that, but that’s who he is. He’s a teacher and he puts himself and others around him in a position to be successful. I think you have to look at some of those big games he’s had where he’s been and some of the things he’s been able to do and it’s been quite remarkable.”
On impact of seeing a coach with big wins:
“This certainly was a factor in what I was looking for. Beating the No. 6 Arizona State team this year. I thought that was an incredible achievement with his ball club. It’s not all about how many losses and how many wins, it’s not about the attractive record. I’ve got a good person and an exceptional football coach.”
On importance of hiring a coach with head coaching experience:
“I was looking at the big picture, not really thinking too much about that although I think at a place like Nebraska, with all this great history and tradition, experience matters.”
On knowing he was ready for the challenge:
“He’s going to be coaching for a long time. This is what he does. He’s not looking to retire. He’s going to be coaching for as long as he can. When we were talking, I could sense in his voice what a great opportunity for me to come to a great place like Nebraska and work with the quality of young people. I could just sense excitement and inspiration. Mike and I go about our business somewhat similar. Don’t for a second think that we’re not competitive. This guy right here is as competitive as any guy I’ve talked to and nobody wants to win more than we do but there’s a way you go about doing that.”