Oregon reporter shares perspective on new Husker football coach Mike Riley

Former Oregon State coach Mike Riley is Nebraska's new head football coach (Oregon State sports information photo)
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December 4, 2014 - 4:25pm

Mike Riley will be Nebraska’s next head football coach. The 61-year-old takes over for Bo Pelini, who was fired last weekend. Riley compiled a 93-80 record in 14 seasons at Oregon State; his career also includes three seasons as head coach of the San Diego Chargers. For more on Riley, Mike Tobias of NET News talked with Steve Gress, who covers Oregon State football for the Corvallis Gazette-Times.


Mike Riley coaching for Oregon State. (Photo courtesy Oregon State University)

 


RILEY'S RESUME

  • BORN: Wallace, Idaho
  • COLLEGE: Alabama (played defensive back, 1971-1974)
  • HEAD COACH, Winnepeg Blue Bombers (Canadian Football League) - 1987-1990, 40-32 record with two Grey Cup championships
  • HEAD COACH, San Diego Changers - 1999-2001, 14-34 record
  • HEAD COACH, Oregon State Univ. - 1997-1998 and 2003-2014, 93-80 record
MIKE TOBIAS, NET NEWS: Steve, are you surprised that Mike Riley is leaving Oregon State?

STEVE GRESS, CORVALLIS (Oregon) Gazette-Times: Yes. Completely shocked when I had my phone blowing up this morning telling me what was going on. I jumped out of the shower, got dressed and came down to work and the entire day has changed. So definitely shocked to hear the news this morning.

TOBIAS: So no indications at all that he was looking at other coaching jobs, other opportunities?

GRESS: No, not really. He’s been here for 14 years through two stints, and the last 12 straight. He’s a Corvallis guy, and I always expected him to finish his career here. Five, six, seven years ago, whatever it was, USC (University of Southern California) kind of came asking and he locked himself into a contract that kind of was basically a lifetime contract because he wanted to be here. Totally out of the blue.

TOBIAS: You cover Oregon State football regularly, you know Mike Riley. What’s he like as a person?

GRESS: He’s what everybody says. He’s a nice guy. Always willing to help us out in the media, practices are open. He always comes over with a smile each day to answer everything we’ve got. He’ll take the time to deal with those things. So just a genuinely good person.

TOBIAS: Talk about his relationship with players, the University and fans. What’s that like?

GRESS: The players absolutely love playing for him. I think the players are all kind of stunned as well. He’s always had open practices so for us it’s great. Early on, I know I did some stuff with him, he was at Boys and Girls Clubs doing some different things for fundraisers and things that they had. He is what everybody says, a genuinely nice guy.

TOBIAS: What does a Mike Riley-coached team look like?

GRESS: You know, it’s going to be interesting. He like to run the pro-style offense. He likes to be balanced, and I know the last few years they haven’t run the ball well, but if you look at his track record and some of the running backs that have come through - Steven Jackson comes to mind, especially Jacquizz Rodgers and even before Ken Simonton – they’ve had a good stable of running backs. I think the last couple years they’ve just had an issue with an offensive line that’s been beat-up and they haven’t been able to find that consistency in the running game. So he does want to be balanced; it hasn’t really shown itself the last couple years, but I think that’s basically because of the injury situation and what they’ve had up front and kind of the moving parts there. That’s kind of grown itself out of the pro-style here in the Pac-12 recently, and if you look at the teams, everybody is going up-tempo, spread, different types of stuff. So I think that kind of alienated some fans, and I think that’s maybe one of the reasons why they struggled a little bit.

TOBIAS: There was a column I saw that you wrote in October, and this was after Oregon State had lost their eighth Pac-12 conference game out of the last nine, and you said that you thought that “the time has come for Riley to either take a hard look at his philosophy and make changes, or step away,” and I think this was in relation to running that pro-style offense.

GRESS: I think Mike’s a good coach, and I think he can run a program well, and do a lot of stuff. But in this day and age, and in this conference specifically with the way things are, he needed to evolve a little bit, do something that’s different in order for them to be competitive against the teams in this conference. Now what he likes to do might fit in the Big-10, but in this conference I thought that it was time for him to try and do something, just to either enthuse the fan base, maybe get them to have some success against some of those other teams, or he needs to walk away. If he didn’t want to do that, and felt like his time here had run his course, to walk away because of his contract and what that was going to cost Oregon State to maybe get out of if they maybe felt like they needed to make a move.

TOBIAS: If you had to look at things that fans disliked about his coaching, was that one of them, this stubbornness to kind of stick with a certain style of offense.

GRESS: I think you used the right word, stubbornness. He stuck with his guns and he wanted to go that route, and I think that’s what upset a lot of fans, because there wasn’t that willingness to try stuff, although it’s interesting, a few years back, when the “wildcat” (offense) was kind of getting there, they did have that. They had Jacquizz Rodgers doing a little bit of that. They started the “fly sweep,” which has been a staple of their offense, that was back in ’06 and ’07, somewhere back in there. So he has done some things, but I just think that the Pac-12 has gotten so much better in the last three years, especially. You see a lot of new coaches coming in and bringing new styles and things like that, and they felt like he was kind of the dinosaur of the coaches here, and they were back in the stone age of what they were trying to do, both offensively and defensively.

TOBIAS: So if you had to summarize what Nebraska is getting in Mike Riley, what would you say?

GRESS: I think he’s a guy that’s going to run a clean program. I think that if he has the talent, you know it’s hard to get the talent here, but if he’s able to get the talent he’s looking for, I think his style can work. You just have to be able to have the guys in position; you look at Alabama, they do what they do. Even the spread (offense), they can do some of that, but they still beat you the old fashioned way because they get talent. So if he gets talent, I think he can have them up where they are. But the question is, I’ve talked to other people today, Nebraska wants somebody who can come in and win championships, and I don’t know if he’s that guy. He hasn’t done it here; he had an opportunity in ’08 and ’09, they lost both years in the “Civil War” to Oregon. That cost them a chance to win the conference and go to the Rose Bowl. So I don’t know. It will be interesting. I hope so. I think he’s a great person, good family guy, caring, he’s going to run a clean program, and he is who he is. He’s pretty much up front, so it will be that matter of whether he can win the championships to keep people happy.

TOBIAS: Steve Gress of the Corvallis Gazette-Times, thanks for your time.

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