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FIRST DOWNS AND SECOND GUESSES

Shatel: Husker A.D. says Mike Riley is in rebuilding mode; is anyone buying it?

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Eichorst, Riley

Nebraska Athletic Director Shawn Eichorst, right, said Monday that football coach Mike Riley, center, is in "rebuilding" mode.

“Remain calm! All is well!”

When Nebraska Athletic Director Shawn Eichorst sent out that statement on Monday, my first thought was a scene from “Animal House.” That’s the one in which Kevin Bacon’s character stands in front of a rioting crowd, throws up his hands and says, “Remain calm. All is well.”

And then he gets run over.

I’m not sure Eichorst’s attempt will achieve different results.

Eichorst and coach Mike Riley acknowledged the “elephant” in the room: The heat is on. The A.D. who said he would never comment on a coach in season just gave a vote of confidence — in his coach’s first season.

This tells me Eichorst is getting a lot of noise from boosters and/or regents about Riley’s 3-6 start. No surprise there.

Riley said he jotted down notes on Sunday night to talk about the state of the program because he expected the topic. Before being asked a question, he said, “with all this going on, we can’t be distracted.”

Welcome to Nebraska, Mike.

It was good to hear from both on the brush fire that is Nebraska football. But these statements don’t put out the fire. If anything, they fan the flames.

The thing that extinguishes fires is winning football games.

But here’s what I found interesting about Monday’s talk: Riley apparently inherited a rebuilding project.

Eichorst wrote, “Your support and patience as Mike Riley rebuilds our storied program one brick at a time ...”

This is some convenient spin. A year ago this month, when Eichorst fired Bo Pelini, there was no mention of the word “rebuild.”

There was no talk of a program in shambles, that had to be gutted and built brick by brick.

Eichorst said then “we weren’t good enough in the games that mattered.” He added that “we gave (Pelini) ample resources and ample support.”

The message: Pelini was good, not good enough. When Riley was hired, the message was, here’s the coach who will put NU over the top.

But now a program that went to seven straight bowls needs to be rebuilt?

In certain areas, yes.

Confidence. Culture. Attention to detail. And there’s an offensive line that needs to be constructed.

There’s an entire roster of young men who had been motivated by fear and an “us against the world” mentality. Riley is using a positive approach.

Clearly, from watching the games, it’s been an awkward transition. It looks like some kids have bought in, some haven’t, and the coaches are still feeling their way through. In other words, the first year of a change.

But this is not a five-year process. Attrition often expedites the transition. Find out who wants to be here, who doesn’t.

If a coaching staff is good at what it does, if it has a system it believes in, a culture can be flipped in one season. Confidence? That comes from winning. Also, a coaching staff making good decisions, helping win games, playing to players’ strengths.

Some, not all, Nebraska players need to be taught how to take pride in their work. Many Huskers need to hit the weight room. Again, with the right staff, these are things that can transform after one season (two offseasons).

Nebraska football needs to clear out its collective head. The personnel needs some upgrading, but this is not a reclamation project.

To his credit, Riley said he did not take the NU job with the intention of rebuilding. The thought is to win right away, and find out “what we can do better.”

The good news for Riley: His boss says he is in rebuilding mode. But is anyone buying it?

My advice for Eichorst: Don’t stand in front of an oncoming crowd.

You have to say yes. The Dodgers wouldn’t be bringing him in for an interview this week to talk Big Ten baseball. If Erstad blows away Andrew Friedman, Los Angeles’ president of baseball operations, he could be the guy.

That’s exactly how Friedman hired Joe Maddon, a longtime Angels coach, to be manager of Tampa Bay. Maddon aced the interview.

Oh yes, Maddon was an Angels coach for 11 seasons and knows Erstad well. That can’t hurt.

Erstad would be an outside-the-box hire, but he was at NU, too. I’ve said he’s Nebraska’s Fred Hoiberg, the school hero who had never coached but had the leadership quotient.

Folks in L.A. remember Erstad’s leadership qualities in the clubhouse. The Dodgers are a collection of multi-millionaires who don’t play with an edge. Erstad could bring that edge.

I don’t know if Erstad gets the job. But either way, he can’t lose. Imagine the recruiting juice he can get from this.

» If Erstad does get the Dodger job, you have to think Alex Gordon to Chavez Ravine is on the table. Gordon never got to play for Erstad at NU. Wouldn’t that be something?

» Don’t ask if these were Gordon’s last games in Royal blue. Some in the K.C. media assume he’s opting out and gone. Part of that is assuming K.C. won’t throw a big contract at Gordon, who is 31. Nobody knows. Except Alex.

My two cents: If the Royals give him a good offer, treat him with respect, it will be hard for the Midwest kid to leave.

If it is over, Gordon walks away in style, with a trail of golden memories.

» There’s a lot to look forward to in the first College Football Playoff rankings tonight. I want to see where Ohio State, Michigan State and Iowa rank. Did the Big Ten’s image get a bump from last bowl season? We’ll find out.

» Interesting to hear Mike Riley use the word “failed” on Monday. Usually the media try to fit the right adjective to a lost season. This time the coach did it.

» Creighton soccer has a “playoff” game at Georgetown. Yes, Big East stakes are on the line. But so is seeding and home field in the NCAA tourney. Does the road to K.C. (College Cup) need to go through Morrison Stadium? No. But, hey, it’s a lot closer.

» One more and I’m outta here: For the last week, I’ve been inundated with requests for a column on Dan Warthen. Who?

Warthen is the pitching coach for the New York Mets. Pretty good story right there. But Warthen is also an Omaha native and grad of Omaha North, where he played football and baseball. He had a short major league career and has been a major league pitching and bullpen coach since 1981 for six clubs.

The World-Herald last featured Warthen in 2008. Game one of the World Series would have been a great time for an update. One problem: The clubhouses are closed before the game, and batting practice was called due to the rain. The 14-inning game ended at 12:30 a.m. No time for an interview.

Thanks to the Omahans who alerted me about Warthen. As the Mets (and Dodgers) would say, there’s always next year.

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