When Bo Pelini was fired, our intial response was, frankly, shock. We did not expect Nebraska to move on from a coach with a 70% win average. We didn't expect the courage, if you will, from an athletic director who seems content with the background. But it happened, whether we liked it or not (and we were pretty split on the issue).
After the initial shock, our next step was to assemble lists of potential replacement head coaches. With a greasy Runza napkin in hand, we scrawled out the future of Nebraska football. We hired Jim Tressel. We hired Scott Frost. Dan Mullen. Kevin Sumlin. Art Briles. Gary Patterson. We fired up the neon lights and we got excited.
Everyone will be shocked by the new Nebraska, we believed. Our lists were infallible, from top to bottom. Frost isn't Pelini, we argued. Tressel is a changed man, we insisted. Bret Bielema isn't that bad, we rationalized.
And then, around noon last Wednesday, the athletic department broke our hearts, announcing Mike Riley, formerly of the Oregon State Beavers.
Mike Riley, who's he? And then we saw the record. We saw the dismal state of the program, the lack of championships, the struggle for bowl games. THIS Is our guy?
We ignored context. We ignored Oregon State's place in college football, a pennywise program in a conference of war chests, a program overshadowed by its much flashier, much wealthier big brother. We ignored the bump that Mike Riley gave Oregon State when he was their coach versus when he was not.
We ignored Riley's forty-plus years of experience.
Why? Because he wasn't on our list. Our beloved list of names that would instantaneously bring Nebraska football "back". Can't miss hires, every one of them.
But no, Eichorst hired Riley. Disappointment ensued.
So we made another list. If we can't have our head coach, let's take that money and hire him a kick-ass staff, we thought. We surrounded him with Ed Orgeron, Scott Frost, Ron Brown, Rich Fisher, and Rich Kaczenski, among others. If we throw enough money around, we can't lose!
And then we started to hear about the hires. Trent Bray, linebackers. Mark Banker, defensive coordinator. Bruce Read, Special Teams. Mike Cavanaugh, offensive line.
Oh no. Not on our list, we sighed. Even worse? He hired them from Oregon State! OREGON STATE. Who couldn't make a bowl game.
CRONYISM, we alleged. These guys won't cut it. It's Bo Pelini's staff all over again, we cried.
And here's where I have to beg you to stop.
It's not cronyism if the guy you hired can actually do his job. It's not the buddy system if you can trust your assistants. Pelini's problem wasn't that he hired his buddies. It was that his buddies were not qualified, not yet at least, to coach for a Division 1 program with the aspirations Nebraska has. They were good men, good coaches but they simply could not answer all of the challenges they were presented. (And honestly speaking, Bo Pelini's program had many other issues beyond assistant coaching, issues that the athletic department, rightly or wrongly, had lost confidence that he would address.)
Mike Riley is not Bo Pelini. Mike Riley has forty plus years of coaching experience, including almost two decades of head coaching experience. He has deep connections in college football and he knows more than just the twenty five guys that 247Sports rates as great recruiters (no indication on their coaching ability). He knows what to look for in a staff. At his press conference, he stressed that he would hire coaches who are experts at their position and capable of teaching that knowledge. Development will be the core of this program and a key to its success going forward.
I'd wager that Coach Riley knows more about football and more about coaching than you or I. Yes, he could be making mistakes. Yes, he could fail. That's all part of the business, a business he knows more intimately than us.
I am not going to say that Riley will succeed or not succeed at Nebraska. I am not going to pretend that I know. But what I will say is that I refuse to not trust him before he gives me a reason.
And I'm going to ask that you do the same.
I'm going to ask that we stop crying foul about every name we hear connected, simply because he doesn't fit our dream list. I'm going to ask that we put away our Runza napkins and to start looking at the big picture.
I want us to realize that our napkins are dreams. That we don't know everything.
I want you to understand that Riley can't just hire everyone you like. The staff has to be cohesive. They have to be teachers. They have to be able to communicate. They have to be able to meet the challenge at Nebraska.
So, I'm going to ask that you give these coaches a chance to lose your trust.
Give this staff a chance. It's easy and popular to nitpick and hedge on failure.
Let's do the uncommon thing: wait to point out the weaknesses when there is actual evidence of this staff's inability to succeed.
Mike Riley doesn't need a ringing endorsement from Tom Osborne or all of the neon lights of hot coaches.
But he does need the same chance and benefit of the doubt that every other Nebraska head coach has been given. His program, this program, our program, needs our support.
There's no prize for being right about failure.
I mean, we haven't even seen him call a pass to open the spring game yet.
Let Mike Riley's program lose or gain your trust between the hash marks, not from names on paper.
As Jon says in the Flakes this morning, give the girl a chance.
- Salt Creek and Stadium