Many people expected Shawn Eichorst to turn to the state of Oregon for Nebraska's next football coach, but most would have thought it would have been Oregon offensive coordinator Scott Frost. Instead, Eichorst tabbed Oregon State head coach Mike Riley to replace Bo Pelini. It's a selection that initially doesn't excite many fans, from what I gather. He's not a big, proven name like Art Briles or Gary Patterson. He's not a splashy hire like Jim Tressel. And he doesn't have the Nebraska connections or "hot, up-and-coming" resume of Frost.
But he is a solid coach. He's 61 years old and a former defensive back for Alabama. He was the head coach of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers of the CFL, winning two Grey Cups in four seasons before leaving for the San Antonio Riders, the precursor to NFL Europe in 1991. After that, he spent four seasons as offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Southern Cal, where he worked under John Robinson and developed Rob Johnson. In 1997, he was named head coach of Oregon State, where he made progress turning the Beavers around, though the 5-6 record in 1998 didn't really reflect it.
That record was enough to convince the San Diego Chargers to name him head coach in 1999, where he went 8-8, 1-15 and 5-11 in three seasons. He wasn't able to develop quarterback Ryan Leaf (who later called him an "idiot."), who the Chargers waived after the 2000 season.
After a season as an assistant with the New Orleans Saints, Riley returned to Oregon State as head coach in 2003, where he's lead the Beavers to eight bowl game appearances in twelve years. His best season was 2006, when the Beavers went 10-4, beating Missouri 39-38 in the Sun Bowl. In 2014, Riley went 5-7 with Oregon State.
Overall, Riley is 93-80 at Oregon State and 58-63 in Pac-10/12 conference games. So what's the attraction?
That's a good question. Riley twice turned down offers from Southern Cal. The first time, the job eventually went to Pete Carroll and the second was to replace Carroll. The first time the Trojans offered the job, Chargers president Dean Spanos told Riley that he'd be fired if he even interviewed with the Trojans, so he declined to risk his job. He then turned down Alabama, thinking that he'd get the UCLA job.
So clearly, there is something there. Riley has built a reputation for developing players. Corvallis is not a particularly attractive place for college football players. ESPN.com summed up Riley this way last fall:
No coach in America has done more with such limited resources. Let's just say that not many five-star recruits rush to put Oregon State on their wish list.
He's known for recruiting hidden gems out of places like Texas; he hasn't gotten the stars, but he's cobbled together players that seemingly nobody else wants and turns out average to OK teams in the Pac-12. He's highly respected by those inside of football, even if fans don't necessarily share that vision.
He's also known as "Mr. Nice Guy" who gets along well with not just fans but the media. One of the biggest issues during Bo Pelini's career in Lincoln was an antagonistic relationship with the staff of the Omaha World-Herald. That contentious relationship is over, and Mike Riley would seem to be the antithesis of Pelini in terms of relationships with the media.
LOVE that hire for Nebraska. Handful of coaches I'd want my kid to play for/learn from... Mike Riley's top 5 for sure.— Sam Ponder (@sam_ponder) December 4, 2014
If it's done...great hire by @Huskers getting Mike Riley from Oregon State!!— Kirk Herbstreit (@KirkHerbstreit) December 4, 2014
I will say this: If you can win in Corvallis, Ore.--and Mike Riley did a lot of winning--you can probably win anywhere.— Tom Dienhart (@BTNTomDienhart) December 4, 2014
So what do you think? Did Nebraska give a hard-working great coach a chance to succeed with the resources of an elite institution? Or did Eichorst simply hire a nice guy for his "Energy Bus"?