Shawn Eichorst admitted that he was thinking about new Nebraska football coach Mike Riley prior to Sunday's press conference where he announced that Bo Pelini had been dismissed. In fact, he's been following Riley for ten years. Monday morning, he started the active pursuit of Riley and by Tuesday, was meeting with Riley and chancellor Harvey Perlman, as both Riley and Perlman happened to be in San Francisco that day. It didn't take long for Eichorst and Perlman to confirm that Riley was their choice, so the conversations quickly turned towards making the deal. Everything was wrapped up by Wednesday evening.
This timeline, as well as the thought process behind the selection of Riley, make it clear that Nebraska never really considered Arkansas' coach Bret Bielema. Perlman noted that Bielema had just left Wisconsin two years ago, making the observation that if Bielema left Arkansas after two seasons, how long could he be expected to remain in Lincoln.
Riley won the press conference with a folksy, relaxed "aw shucks" manner that reminded folks of Husker basketball coach Tim Miles. His first objective is to assemble a staff and make some headway on recruiting before the holiday dead period begins in a week. He plans to bring "some" of his assistants along with him from Oregon State, though he hasn't told any of them that yet. He will talk to the current staff, though that's probably more of a courtesy and to get an assessment on where Nebraska is at on recruiting.
Nebraska ties won't be much, if any, factor on who's on his staff. What he's looking for is (1) are they an "expert" at their position and (2) do they treat people right. That would seem to indicate that any coach will have significant experience. Another interesting revelation is that Riley plans to have a full-time special teams coordinator that doesn't have offensive or defensive responsibilities. That means one less assistant coach on offense or defense.
Many people call Riley's offensive style "pro-style", but he prefers to call it a "smorgasbord." It starts with the quarterback, according to Riley, and his background was as a quarterback coach / offensive coordinator at Southern Cal prior to getting head coaching jobs. That doesn't mean that he'll abandon the run, though. He's had talented running backs at Oregon State (former St. Louis running back Steven Jackson comes to mind), four of which combined to rush for over 16,000 yards in Corvallis. His thought is to "adapt that system as best you can to the team."
He touched on his recent struggles at Oregon State, and how he's got to keep working at it to get better. He plans to reach out to former coaches (including Bill Callahan), and praised the work that Bo Pelini did. He talked about recognizing how difficult this change is on the players, and how he needs to start building a relationship with them. Fortunately, most of them seem ready to give him a chance.
Barney Cotton will still coach the team at the bowl game, while Riley will take in the game as a "fan". Probably more accurately, it will be as a scout as it will be the first time he's had a chance to watch his new players in a game.
The inevitable walk-on question came up, and that's something Riley says he believes in as well, bringing up Mike Hass, a walk-on at Oregon State who won the 2005 Biletnikoff Award as the best wide receiver in college football. Alexis Serna, another walk-on, won the 2005 Lou Groza Award for the best kicker in college as well.
Afterwards, Riley was asked about Ed Orgeron, the former Ole Miss head coach and Southern Cal recruiting wizard who has expressed interest in working for Riley at Nebraska. "I'm glad to know that, I suppose. That's neat." (I get the impression that Riley wasn't really thinking about Orgeron on his staff, but you have to suspect that he might be at least considering it now.)