Jon Gruden, yes!!! We want Gruden. Ooo, Bret Bielema — ya, that’s the guy. Legendary QB Scott Frost, that’s the slam dunk hire.
Those were the general reactions by fans and pundits alike as the Nebraska Cornhuskers began their search for a new head coach. However, not a single one of them was the name we heard when the Huskers announced their new head coach.
Instead, AD Shawn Eichorst went out and got Oregon State head coach Mike Riley, announcing the hire on Thursday morning. Yes, the man whose name was never publicly associated with the job in any shape over the last three days is the man Eichorst picked.
He also isn’t a man who drums up a lot of the feelings that a name every casual fan would know.
Sexy hire, Riley isn’t, but the right hire Riley is.
No doubt the hire will be controversial among some Husker faithful, and judging by the instant reaction via Twitter that is definitely the case. Here is just a sampling over the last hour since the news broke:
Nebraska fired Bo Pelini for Mike Riley? Who the hell is running that place?!
— Barton (@Barton1331) December 4, 2014
You fired a consistent, proven winner for a journeyman heaved from Oregon State. Welcome back to irrelevance, Nebraska.
— Chris Emma (@CEmma670) December 4, 2014
Mike Riley is well-respected and liked by all, but a B1G marquee program just hired a guy who probably was considered middle-of-pack in P12.
— Steve Greenberg (@SLGreenberg) December 4, 2014
Such is the nature when you’re coaching in Corvallis, Ore. and having to compete with the Nike juggernaut that is the University of Oregon inside your own state.
Attention on the Beavers program was few and far between on a national level that’s for sure. Yet, that doesn’t mean this isn’t a great hire or the right hire.
Sure, critics will point to a bad year this year and a losing conference record and those are fair to point out. But, it’s also fair to point out he wasn’t coaching at a place like USC or Washington and took a historically awful program and made it competitive on a nearly annual basis.
Riley ends his time in Corvallis with a 93-80 overall record and a 6-2 record in bowl games. The only thing that is missing from his resume is a Pac-10/12 title, but he had his team 3rd or higher in the conference standings five times.
It’s like asking the coach of Indiana to win a Big Ten championship, that’s how historically awful the Beavers program has been. I mean, they’ve won a whole one conference championship (2000 under Dennis Erickson while Riley was in the NFL) since 1964.
Despite the numbers, Riley has never been given the keys to a Porsche like the Husker program is before. Sure, it may be a used Porsche but Riley has proven he can take a beat up program and make it a consistent winner. The reality is, the Huskers program needs a tune up, and Riley can provide that.
He is the exact opposite of Bo Pelini in just about every way. He’s a much more mild-mannered, dare I say nice guy. Riley also happens to be an offensive football coach with a long history of developing some really good quarterbacks, and he will bring a different look to the Huskers offense in the coming years.
Get ready for the pro-style attack in Lincoln, Neb. — something that has never been seen in Memorial Stadium from a Huskers team in my lifetime.
Oh, and perhaps most importantly, Riley happens to be exactly what the Huskers need on the recruiting trail as well. For all the critics of him being 61 years old, he’s light years ahead of Bo Pelini in his use of social media and is perhaps one of the most underrated recruiters in college football.
Mike Riley fits what #Huskers need on trail. Very innovative recruiter. Great use of social media, edits and yes even airplanes. Love hire.
— Jeremy Crabtree (@jeremycrabtree) December 4, 2014
While some may have wished for the “home run” of a sexy hire, isn’t it more important to get the guy who fits the program best and has the confidence of the athletic director?
For those who question this hire because it lacks the splashiness you were hoping for, just look to Pinnacle Bank Arena for proof that the big name isn’t exactly the right name all the time. Tim Miles will tell you all about that.
In fact, that very point was made by our friend Brandon Cavanaugh of HuskerCorner.com:
Mike Riley hire reminds me a lot of Tim Miles' in terms if reaction. National = awesome! Local = WHAT?!
— Brandon Cavanaugh (@eightlaces) December 4, 2014
Those of us who have seen Riley coach in arguably the second-most difficult location in the Power 5 conferences understand just how good of a coach he is.
Just ask USC and Alabama what they think of him as a head coach, because Riley turned down the job with the Trojans twice (before and after Lane Kiffin) and was a front-runner for the Alabama job when Nick Saban eventually got it.
If he’s good enough for two of the premier football programs in the country, he sure as hell is good enough to be at Nebraska.
Give Riley a season on the recruiting trail and watch what happens when he’s got the Huskers name, the increased financial support and the ties in the recruiting world out West.
Just because he may not be the name fans or boosters know best, doesn’t make Riley a bad hire. Don’t be surprised to see Riley having this team winning in ways critics would be surprised about in short order.