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Staff Roundtable: The Mike Riley Hire

What does the CN staff think of Mike Riley becoming Nebraska HC? Here are our thoughts...

Bruce Thorson-USA TODAY Sports

What’s your initial reaction to the hiring of Mike Riley as Nebraska’s Head Coach?

Joe Canale: ugh.  followed by eh. followed a day later by hmmm?

Ty: I’m whelmed.  I can’t say one way or the other.

Cheeseandcorn: My initial reaction (after shock) was pretty disgusted. But the more I think about him, the more I’m warming up to him.

Ranchbabe: Very surprised to say the least. As fast as it happened, this was SE’s guy all along. I don’t believe any of the rumors that said _[insert name here]___ was offered the job first.

Andy: Is Mike Riley still at Oregon St.? Still coaching for that matter?

Salt Creek: It was so amazing inoffensive that I had to take time to contemplate a world in which we have a head coach who isn’t a sideshow.

Jon J: Isn’t he dead?

David: I was surprised, that’s for sure. It’s been said, but we heard so many names, some seriously, some in jest, but never once did I hear or see Riley’s name brought up. Impressive stealth work by Eichorst.

Mike: I was all over the board.  First I was, damn, because I was thinking it was going to be a big name. Then I took a step back and said he’s still a good coach. Then I checked his record as of late, and started to get alarmed.

Brian: Well, to be honest, I was somewhat (really) caught off guard with this one. I mean, who really, REALLY knew about this until the tweet came across the bow close to lunch time on Thursday?

What did you think of Riley and Oregon State before the hiring news broke?

Joe Canale: I didn’t. I knew who he was but that’s about it.

Ty: I knew a little about him because I lived in the Mountain Time Zone before moving to Omaha (now Lincoln) and I got to watch a LOT of PAC-12.  I always enjoyed watching his teams.  They seemed to be well-coached.  Less run-dependent than we’re used to, but played well most of the time.

Cheeseandcorn: I had read a Stewart Mandel piece from earlier this fall where Mandel was ripping on Oregon State fans who wanted Riley fired, saying they had forgotten just how much he had done for the program and that it was unlikely that they’d find somebody who could match his results with their meager resources. So I had put him in the category of "solid coach who’s starting to wear out his welcome" - sort of a Mark Richt lite in that respect, if you will.

Ranchbabe: I’m with Joe. I can’t remember reading anything about him at all.

Andy: Thought he’d moved on to 1-AA or retired since OSU had turned so shitty the last 5 years.

Salt Creek: I’d vaguely remembered Oregon State had a bad season.

Jon: Once I looked up that he was not, in fact, dead, I remembered watching Oregon State football years ago. They were bloody awful. It wasn’t just 20-some years of losing, it was 1-10 or 2-9 stuff with no hope in sight. Then Riley came along.

David: I didn’t know much and honestly, if you’d asked me who Oregon State’s coach was, I’m not sure I would have guessed it. I remember watching Jacquizz Rogers tear up the Pac-10 but only knew them as a middle of the pack squad and had a Kansas State-esque history.

Mike: I guess when Oregon State fell off, I stopped paying any attention, so I didn’t realize that they were struggling as of late.

Brian: A team with some playmakers that always seemed to be close but never good enough. Also, a afterthought compared to the folks in Eugene year after year.

What’s the one thing that Mike Riley has to do (outside of winning) almost immediately in Lincoln?

Joe Canale: Buy a house.  (Maybe he should rent first?)  Also recruit.

Ty: Hire great co-ordinators.  I think it will extinguish the flames a bit.

Andy: Be nice. But apparently that was high on the hiring criteria, so no worries. After that, hold down the current recruiting class and show his ability to bring Texas & Cali 3-stars to Lincoln. Because Bo’s staff never did that. Oh wait.

And also hire Ed Orgeron. Even though he probably won’t find the same "resources" here that were available to him at USC and the SEC.

Cheeseandcorn: At least one of his coordinators has to be a name that will impress most Nebraska fans. He can’t just bring his whole staff over from Corvallis - they’re not going to cut it.

Ranchbabe: He already won introductory press conference much like Tim Miles. That is a solid start. Then, he has to salvage a recruiting class and hire some highly qualified assistants.

Salt Creek: His staff has to be amazing.

Jon: Get rid of his Prius and buy something that actually uses gas, because the first time he tries to go out to the Sandhills and recruit, he’s going to get pulled over and have his car searched for dope. That will make the news, and it will happen repeatedly, to the point that people will start to question this Riley guy and you know what happens after that…..

David: Go on a tour of the local breweries and the State Capitol. Also, don’t listen to Jon, keep rocking the Prius (might have to switch to whatever the equivalent is from Ford, one of the new Focus Electrics, I hear those things get more than 100 mpg).

Mike: Award the Blackshirts at the end of August so nobody soils their undies in a tantrum that this was not how Kevin Cosgrove did it.

Brian: Get guys that, in his own words, "are better than he is" as AC’s. He has his paycheck (5 years starting at $2.7 million a year) and he has MULTITUDES of resources that he didn’t have in Corvallis. Planes to go anywhere recruiting. A house that is sold out every day. The things that he thought he could use when he was losing out to guys because Corvallis wasn’t appealing to folks. He now has that and will tell himself and his staff to USE IT.

What’s is the biggest thing that Riley brings to Nebraska that they didn’t have in Bo Pelini?

Joe Canale: Someone who can teach a QB to throw a pass

Ty: A better ambassador to fans and the media.  It took Bo awhile.  He also seems to be able to develop quarterbacks.

Cheeseandcorn: A few things come to mind: He’ll be a welcome departure from the "us against the world" mentality that, I think, led to a pretty emotionally volatile team - something you could see on the field. A lot more emotional stability will be a big plus not just with the fans/media side of the job, but more with keeping the players steady and focused. Also, player development. Pelini was clearly learning on the job how to evaluate talent that could fit his system and that he could draw to Lincoln, and how to develop that talent to its fullest. By contrast, as USA Today’s Paul Myerberg said on Twitter today, Riley has a PhD in doing more with less. He’s been doing the ‘Bill Snyder lite’ thing in Corvallis for 14 years.

Ranchbabe: He seems like a guy who embraces the idea of being the face of the program. Some said his practices were all open to the press. He is sooooo going to have those guys eating out of his hand. Husker beat writers will think they died and went to hack heaven. One thing that seems to be drawing near universal praise is his ability to teach. That was a trait that was sorely lacking in Pelini’s staff IMO. It remains to be seen if Riley will bring assistants with the same ability, but it certainly seems like a good bet.

Andy: The media loves him. And thank christ for that because if Barf and Dirk don’t feel stroked it’s over before it starts (sarcastic eye roll). Also, I’m pretty sure after one look at Armstrong, he’ll sign five 2-star QB’s knowing one of them has to pan out better

Salt Creek: Experience. 40-plus years of coaching. He knows things, people, and processes. He knows what works and what doesn’t.

Jon: Cheese took my exact thoughts, so I’m going to go with…

David: Yeah, I like the emotional stability and experience he brings. He sounds like he has a plan. I like that. HE also talked about how he wants to establish an identity. I literally yelled "YES!" when I heard that. Figure out what you want to be and get really good at that.

Mike: Honestly? He’s a guy who’s going to be able to deal with the Omaha World-Herald.

Brian: And he’ll be a guy who doesn’t need the Lincoln Journal-Star to make him sound rested, prepared, and ready to go every year!

Besides that, I’m looking forward to something that he talked about in his presser, and that’s the ability to fit the system to the players. Lets face it.. we’re used to kids (especially on D) not "executing" the gameplan and such for a while. What if, pray tell, the gameplan centered on things that the players could do well? That would be a novel concept!

Your thoughts on Shawn Eichorst and the way he stayed very close to the vest in both the firing of Bo Pelini and the hiring of Mike Riley in a matter of 4 days.

Joe Canale: I’m fine with keeping it quiet.  It seems a bit strange to me that this would be his first choice.  He clearly must like the guy, because there is no sizzle to this hire.  I just hope there is steak.  Some of it will depend on the coordinators, asst coaches.

Ty: It’s been his way, hasn’t it?  He’s not a big media presence, so I’m not surprised.  I have no problem with the way he did it.  However his demeanor in pressers might need some adjustment!

Cheeseandcorn: I liked it a lot - very smooth and professional. Eichorst moved very, very quickly to a solid, sensible pick. Very well handled and resourceful.

Ranchbabe: This was a welcome change from the bungled process that brought Callahan here.

Andy: The "Bo’s fired" presser about how resources weren’t an issue followed by a bottom half Pac 12 hiring were best summed up by the following quote:"I feel like a kid at Christmas who just opened  bag of underwear."

Salt Creek: He’s clearly a very, very savvy operator. This can only be in Nebraska’s benefit. We better hope like hell we don’t lose him to Wisconsin.

Jon: Cheese took my exact answer again. Jerk.

David: I was pretty impressed with how quiet the search was. That’s really, really hard to do anymore. I tip my hat there. I also think it took some stones to fire him after going 9-3 again. Now, there was a lot of discussion about some milestones that Bo needed to hit and those didn’t get met, so if that’s the case, then it may have been easier that it seems on the surface.

Mike: In terms of not letting word sneak out about what he was doing, he gets an A+.  I didn’t believe it when he said that he hadn’t thought about who he’d hire at the dismissal press conference, and sure enough, he wasn’t telling us the truth on that one.  Nobody knew what was coming.  (And if he leaked the Bert rumor just to throw us off, more props to him…)

Brian: 4 is less than 41 and phone calls to Al Saunders during a bowl game and such. Shawn knew what he was doing from the time he called Bo into the office Sunday to when he announced Riley on Friday. Silent Shawn had a plan, kept to it, and stayed with it till he got the desired results.

Yes or No: This will help Nebraska Football take the next step from Bo Pelini and the constant 9 wins but no conference titles narrative they’ve had for over a decade.

Joe Canale: Maybe?   I have not-so-fond memories of the last underwhelming, out of nowhere choice that came with a west coast/pro style offense.  I personally think Frost would have been a swing for the fences.  This looks like bunting, not sure if it’s as a sacrifice or a base hit, but the fences were nowhere to be found.  If this is what they are happy with, I might have preferred to keep Bo, if only for the continuity and keeping what I thought was a decent recruiting class.  It makes me think the relationship between Bo and the higher ups was non existent and the firing had less to do with football then we were led to believe. That said, I know nothing about hiring a coach to improve a team.  I just know that this isn’t very inspiring. But all of these are immediate impressions.  If he can keep most of this class, it will be a good start.

Ty: Yes, but I think we need to give it time.  The problem is we’re looking for splash and to be better next year.  Are we okay with just making a bowl next year?  Probably not, but frankly, we should be.

In all likelihood, Riley will install a whole new offense.  We may not see Tommy at QB next year.  We might.  I’d expect a step back, being that he’ll have Bo’s kids with a few of his own mixed in.  When we fired Bo, I put the over/under for wins next year at 5.5.  I’m sticking with that, but taking the over, as I think we’ll get bowl eligible (though the game @ Miami looms LARGE).  We do still have Illinois, NW, Rutgers, and Purdue on the schedule, though those will be far from gimmes.  Add to that S. Alabama and Southern Miss and…  Shoot.  Okay, I’m still taking the over.

I’d look to the national media right now.  What do they think?  They’re big fans of this hire.  Riley was considered, by his peers, hugely underrated.  I’m not going to talk about the shadow of Eugene or any of those things, but it’s hard to get great kids to Corvallis.  You have to make them good.  We get good-great kids here.  I bet he makes them better.

Cheeseandcorn: Probably not. Some national writer said on Twitter this is the lowest-ceiling hire Eichorst could have made, and I wouldn’t go that far, but there’s not a ton of upside here. Riley’s been around a long, long time, and you pretty much know what you’re getting with him. Guys don’t typically break through and finally start winning conference championships and competing for national titles in their 60s (even Dr. Tom was in his mid-50s when he broke through to the national championship level), and I don’t really expect Riley to be the exception. On the other hand, he’s just about the highest-floor hire Eichorst could have realistically made (other than Bielema, probably). I see very little possibility that the program takes a dive under him. I think he’s going to make the program a bit better than it’s been - not as good as a lot of Husker fans might like, but a bit better.

Ranchbabe: The words "pro-style" gave me shudders at first, but I’ve seen quite a few comments that he is pretty good at adapting to his personnel. I hope this is true and imagine his assistant hires will be pretty critical here. Oregon State has nearly as many players in the NFL (19) as Nebraska currently does (21) and he recruits Texas and California well. He has a track record in finding the overlooked gems and developing them, and we will soon find out if he is also good at getting/keeping high-star talent. The more I read, the more I am warming up to the hire. Summary: I guess you could put me in the ‘cautiously optimistic’ category that he can help the program take the next step.

Andy: No. If this was a home run hire, time to admit we play on the little league field. I feel  like Andrew McCarthy in Weekend At Bernie’s when they were hanging by the inflatable pool on the roof pretending like summer was awesome and he just yells, "This sucks! I’m so depressed!" We aren’t at the country club. We’re getting red in the face blowing up the wading pool.

In a way, he’s the perfect hire. As Husker fans, we make excuses better than anyone. I’m very guilty of that. Well, bingo, we’ve hired a guy who’s had 4 losing conference records in the last 5 years. But! He coaches in Corvallis! It’s the college football equivalent of Oklahoma in The Grapes of Wrath! Sweet Jesus, there’s only funds to put helmets on the defense!!

All that crap being said, he’s a good guy, a solid coach and I hope it works. I really, really do. Just don’t come up to me and pretend that "Mike Riley" was on your lips when some survey monkey calls you up and sez, "Son? Who wuz yer dream hire?"

Salt Creek: Hard to say. His staff will have to help his case. But from everything I’ve read about him, Mike Riley’s extensive experience, contacts, and teaching ability may be the very thing this roster needs to take this program to the next level.

Jon: Yes. National titles. Multiple. You can either be all pissy about this, or be optimistic, maybe even delusional. And why not? The answer is just as valid were we to have hired a 40-something coach with a $5M salary, a $12M buyout, and little head coaching experience in the hopes that he’s the next Tom Osborne and stays for 20 years. Let’s see what the guy can do. If he doesn’t do well, he’s gone in three years; we find another guy and it doesn’t cost us a bankroll.

David: Yes. Pick a side, people, he said yes or no, pick a side.

Mike: No.  But he’s our coach, and seems like a quality guy.  We have no choice but to get behind the guy and hope for the best.  I can whine all I can about how Eichorst didn’t even try to bring in a championship coach rather than an Energy Bus driver, but it doesn’t matter now. Riley’s our man now.

Brian: It’s a start. Riley is a step in the right direction, but there’s no reason to think that a guy who is "at his dream job" and has everything he’s never had before won’t turn over every rock available to him to get the job done. He’s got a week to do some recruiting before the bowl game dead period. But, between hiring his staff and watching, evaluating and cheering on this team in the bowl game, he’ll have a pretty good idea what will work for this team in 2015. I want it to work as bad as anyone and everyone else does. It’ll be fun, no matter what.