Nebraska went to the state of Oregon for its newest head coach. Oregon State, too.
Head coach Mike Riley. Surprised at the name?
The 61-year-old wasn't on any coaching search radar. He'd been in Corvallis for the last 12 years — 14 years overall — and had what amounted to a long, loving, almost lifetime contract there. Earlier this year, Riley was tabbed as one of the most underrated coaches in college football. He was an NFL head coach for three years with the Chargers. He's spent most of his life and career on the West Coast.
What could possibly bring him here? And how he can take what Bo Pelini built and make it better?
For one thing, Nebraska will have more resources than Oregon State did. The Beavers didn't have the benefit of having Nike founder Phil Knight as a graduate — the way Oregon did — so they were inevitably going to be in the Ducks' shadow for a long time to come. The Pac-12 North may be just a little bit harder than the Big Ten West, but Nebraska is positioned in its own division better than Oregon State was going to be in its division.
Of course, there will be questions about Riley's record. His best team, in terms of record, upon his return to OSU, the 2006 bunch, finished 10-4. That doubles as the best record Pelini achieved at Nebraska. Then again — Oregon State, as a program, is not on the same level as Nebraska. Not in the same ballpark in terms of notoriety and not in the same galaxy historically.
You have to ask yourself: Were all of Pelini's wins — the overall success of his record — related to Pelini alone, or did Nebraska — what it is, the long-term success it has had — contribute greatly to that record? Pelini's supporters and detractors will be probably split for awhile on that issue until Riley either proves — or disproves — the theory.
Riley has traditionally run a pro-style, West Coast offense. His current quarterback Sean Mannion, has thrown for 13,600 yards in his collegiate career. OSU tends to have good wideouts and quick-cutting running backs.
Most of Oregon State's roster is composed of players from California, Oregon and Washington, but Riley's staff also had a committed recruiting process in Texas, getting players out of the area not recruited by some of the top schools. So Riley will come to NU with deep recruiting connections on the West Coast – where Nebraska has long been strong – and Texas. He'll have to learn the Big Ten region better, and understand the change in football style from the Pac-12 to the Big Ten.
Riley has a strong reputation as, well, a good guy. Good with the press. Good with players. Quiet. Thoughtful. After the Beavers upset the same UCLA team that beat Nebraska in 2012, he took the team to In-N-Out Burger afterward.
Nebraska players were, again, taken by complete surprise with this hire. An email. Riley will have to win them over, and quickly. Oregon State finished 5-7, so there wasn't anything keeping Riley in Corvallis. He can start the rebuilding process now. He'll have to start with those players, who just on Tuesday met with Pelini for the last time. What Riley does there, over the next year, will be crucial to seeing how quickly NU can capitalize on the momentum Pelini has already started.
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Video: Oregon State play-by-play announced Mike Parker discusses the Riley hire:
Video: Corvallis Oregon Gazette-Times sports editor Steve Gress discusses the Riley hire:
Video: Meet Nebraska hire Mike Riley: