Mike Riley shockingly leaves Oregon State for Nebraska

Mike Riley
Oregon State Coach Mike Riley on the sideline.
(Stephen Dunn / Getty Images)

If Nebraska was looking for the coaching antithesis of bad-boy Bo Pelini, boy, did they get their man.

In a move that shocked everyone from Corvallis to Council Bluffs, Nebraska on Thursday pried Mike Riley away from Oregon State.

Pelini averaged nine wins a year in Lincoln but grated people with his rages, rants and antics.

Riley, conversely, is considered the nicest man in college football.


It was thought Riley was chained to Corvallis, Ore., until death did he part, but Nebraska caught him at a vulnerable time.

Riley, who turns 62 in July, must have come to the conclusion he had only one, big, move left.

He was disconsolate after last week’s thrashing by Oregon left the Beavers at 5-7. Riley thought he had a good team this year.

He was moving forward without Sean Mannion, his senior, NFL-bound quarterback.


If Riley was going to move, it had to be now. In Corvallis he faced a guaranteed life of grind-out wins, against the recruiting odds, in the wickedly tough Pac-12 Conference.

“This is a once in a lifetime opportunity to coach at one of the nation’s most storied football programs and I cannot wait to get started,” Riley said in a statement about taking the Nebraska job.

Riley spent 14 years in Corvallis and he was a way better coach than his 93-80 record, but how much longer was he going to get credit for that?

Archrival Oregon hauls in $115 million annually in athletic revenue, more than double the output at Oregon State.

The reality was Riley was never going to be able to compete with Oregon, and Nike boss Phil Knight’s money.

Riley seemed totally OK with all that, until Thursday.

Corvallis people are patient people, but even they were starting to snipe about the arc of Riley’s program.

Riley grew up in Corvallis, the son of a football coach, and seemed satisfied to stay there. He rode his bike to work.


There were probably only one or two scenarios out there that could have changed his mind. Thursday, one of them came knocking.

Nebraska offers Riley the chance to win late, and pluck a bigger prize in the Big Ten. In Lincoln, there is no rival like Oregon lurking 34 miles down the road.

Nebraska isn’t just the only team in town, it’s the only team in state.

This is Riley’s second chance at the USC job he was offered in 2001 but couldn’t take because he was contractually entangled with the San Diego Chargers.

Riley must have wondered all these years how he would do with USC’s talent or, Nebraska’s talent. Now he’ll find out. His major gift as a coach was taking underdogs and making them better.

The question now is how he’ll coach the over-dogs at Nebraska.

Mike Riley has, at least, earned the right to find out.

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