The only thing more shocking than the stealth and speed with which Nebraska athletic director Shawn Eichorst executed his latest coaching hire was the actual name he chose.
After firing Bo Pelini on Sunday, Thursday the Huskers hired Mike Riley who spent 14 seasons over two tenures at Oregon State. The Huskers will officially introduce Riley at a press conference Friday at Memorial Stadium in Lincoln.
In doing so, Eichorst passed over Oregon offensive coordinator Scott Frost and Wyoming coach Craig Bohl–both well-regarded candidates with ties to the program. Frost, 39, was a two-year starter at quarterback for the Huskers. Bohl was a longtime assistant in Lincoln.
Instead it was Riley’s experience trumped any connection other candidates may have to the program. Though his team went 5-7 this season, he is 90-83 in his college coaching career with a reputation as being creative in recruiting. Prior to his latest stint with the Beavers, an 11-year run at Oregon State, Riley was the coach of the Chargers from 1999-2001 and was the Saints’ defensive backs coach in 2002.
But does Riley’s experience make him the right fit?
More than any other school, perhaps, the Nebraska job is about just that. We saw as much with Pelini who was reported to have gone after a number of vacancies during his tenure with the Huskers. Winning games simply isn’t enough at Nebraska. Other than Alabama’s Nick Saban, Pelini is the only coach in the country to have won at least nine games in each of the last seven seasons.
Still that wasn’t good enough.
They don’t allow booing at Memorial Stadium, but that doesn’t mean the jeers don’t ring loud. Pelini was under constant scrutiny. At Nebraska they count championships. Pelini’s wins felt empty to that program as he failed to win a conference championship during his time there.
Nebraska still believes its tradition makes the program a national brand and want that sentiment reflected in recruiting.
But it’s difficult to recruit to Lincoln, despite their standing tradition, which would have suggested it necessary to hire someone with ties to the program. That needs to be related to recruits.
Arguably more than any other criteria for coaching Huskers football, Riley will be charged with selling the program.
“It is truly an honor to join the University of Nebraska family,” Riley said in a statement. “Though we love Corvallis and Oregon State, this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to coach at one of the nation’s most storied football programs and I can’t wait to get started. My sincere thanks to Chancellor Perlman and [athletic director] Shawn Eichorst for their confidence in me and I look forward to becoming a part of the Nebraska family and building upon the great history and tradition.”