LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — Mike Riley never won a championship at Oregon State. He thinks Nebraska is the place where he can.
Riley was introduced as the Cornhuskers’ new head coach on Friday, and the curious nature of his hiring was the dominant theme of his news conference.
Riley is now in charge of one of the most tradition-rich programs in college football history, a job he landed after going 5-7 this season and 93-80 in 14 years at Oregon State. That’s less than seven wins per year and he is replacing a coach in Bo Pelini who won at least nine games every season.
“We are in this together to build young men and win championships, and they don’t have to be exclusive of each other,” Riley said. “We’re going to do it right. We’re going to work hard.”
Riley has been lauded for making the most out of his limited resources at Oregon State and his ability to develop lightly recruited players. Nebraska, like Oregon State, also faces challenges in recruiting and always has had to draw talent from across the nation.
But there is no shortage of money at Nebraska and the facilities are top-notch. Plus the Cornhuskers have a passionate fan base that has filled Memorial Stadium for every home game since 1962.
Athletic director Shawn Eichorst said he had “zero concern” about Riley’s career win-loss record.
“He’s a teacher, and he puts himself and others around him in position to be successful,” Eichorst said. “You’ve got to look at some of those (Oregon State) teams and some of the things he’s been able to do. It’s been quite remarkable.”
The Beavers pulled a number of upsets over teams ranked in the top five during Riley’s tenure, and they twice were in position to win Pac-12 championships going into the last week of the regular season.
“We’ve been on the brink,” he said. “I’m very confident with the history and performance of Nebraska in general in football, coupled with the hard work and what we do as coaches, we’ll be searching for that opportunity to win championships.”
Riley will have a five-year contract that pays him $2.7 million annually. He’ll receive automatic $100,000 increases in each year of a contract that runs through Feb. 28, 2020. Riley had been the lowest-paid coach in the Pac-12, making a reported $1.5 million this year. Pelini was paid $3.1 million.
Riley is now the face of a program that ranks fourth in all-time wins and has won five national championships. The Huskers have not won a conference title since 1999.
“At the stage of my career, it was an opportunity to try something one more time,” Riley said. “If you’re going to do it one more time, this is a great chance to do it at a great place.”
Eichorst said Riley is as competitive as anyone he has known and that Riley’s age — 61 — did not give him pause.
“This is a son of a football coach. This is what he does. He’s not looking to retire,” Eichorst said. “He’s going to coach his butt off for as long as he can.”
Riley said his first order of business will be to assemble his staff. He said he had a good idea of who from Oregon State would join him at Nebraska, but he declined to identify those assistants. He said he would consider retaining some of the current Nebraska assistants.
Eichorst said he had been following Riley’s career for about 10 years and that he decided to go after him on Monday, the day after Pelini was fired after posting a 66-27 record over seven seasons. Eichorst and chancellor Harvey Perlman met with Riley in San Francisco on Tuesday.
Perlman said Riley was Nebraska’s only target.
Perlman said he knows a lot of fans are wondering why a coach who won 71 percent of his games at Nebraska would be replaced by one who has won 52 percent at Oregon State. Perlman said he is confident in Riley’s coaching credentials and his ability to unify a fan base splintered over Pelini’s dismissal.
“It won’t be instantly, because there are strong passions,” Perlman said. “That’s what football is all about. That’s why they’re fans.”
Pelini had a strong bond with his players, and he met with them for the last time Tuesday night. Riley introduced himself to the team immediately after he arrived Thursday night.
“Guys warmed up to him because he seems genuine,” cornerback Daniel Davie said. “He knows what he’s talking about. When guys see that, they’re going to have respect for you off the jump.”
Offensive lineman Givins Price said some of the players’ concerns about Riley’s age were quickly allayed.
“You can tell he’s charismatic, he’s open, and he didn’t beat around the bush with us last night,” Price said. “He kept it honest with us, and that’s a great first impression.”
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