Like nearly everybody else, I was expecting somebody else to be named the next head coach of the Huskers. Earlier this week, I suggested Baylor's Art Briles was my top choice in a discussion with Omaha weekly newspaper "The Reader". Why? After Sunday's news conference, I felt that Shawn Eichorst was going to "go big" and get a huge name. I didn't think they would pursue the hot assistant (i.e. Scott Frost) or the up-and-coming mid-major coach (i.e. Jim McElwain). I thought they'd probably hire an established coach from a Power-5 conference, and if nothing else, pick someone like Minnesota's Jerry Kill. I think Mike Riley's name may have briefly passed through my head, but I never gave him much of a second thought.
Of course, I panicked like most Husker fans when the Bret Bielema rumor hit. Not so much because Bielema is a bad coach, but rather because of the bad taste he left in both Nebraska AND Wisconsin in 2012. I thought it was an unlikely rumor because Bielema's negativity would seem to run counter to Eichorst's "Energy Bus" philosophy, and sure enough, it was quickly debunked.
I probably would not have believed the Mike Riley report either if I hadn't seen it on the @Huskers Twitter feed, and that sent me into a mad scramble to figure out the hire. And that scramble resulted in a maddening manic-depressive swing of emotions. At first, I was feeling OK about the hire as I recalled that he was moderately successful at Oregon State and even spent time in the NFL. Then I looked at the record and saw way-more losing than I had remembered; that made me question the hire and doubt. Then I read his resume and saw that he turned down offers from Southern Cal (TWICE) and Alabama.
So what's up with the guy?
That's the question. The best analogy I can come up with is that Oregon State is historically much like Iowa State, Kansas State, or Vanderbilt; historically awful programs that don't attract much talent. So it takes incredible coaching to get an Oregon State to be a nine or ten win program, which he's done at times.
Fan reaction locally was swift - and negative. "We fired a nine win coach for a guy who's lost six or more games four out of the last five years?" That's not a championship coach. But contrast that with the reports from the national media that he does more with less, and you want to give the guy the benefit of the doubt. Reporters that cover recruiting praise him for seeking out underrated talent out of Texas and turning them into good, solid players. They see him as a guy who can now approach four and five star players when he's wearing the "N" on his shirt.
Well, we'll see about that.
Bottom line is that, like him or not, he's Nebraska's coach now. While I'm not sure he's an upgrade over Bo Pelini, I don't think he's a downgrade. He'll clearly upgrade Nebraska's quarterback play, which has been an issue the last couple of years. His background was as Southern Cal's offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. What about the defense? That remains to be seen.
Where I think Riley will be different is in media relations. Bo Pelini was a no-nonsense guy who didn't appreciate some of the nonsense that the Omaha World-Herald published in recent years. Riley's reputation is that he's much more affable and media-friendly, which means that it's less likely that the World-Herald will quote him out of context in an attempt to misrepresent his thoughts.
That, and the honeymoon period that each new coach gets, should make for a more pleasant environment around Nebraska football. The players seem on board initially with their new coach; now the only question is whether the fans will come on board.
I'm willing to give the new guy a chance. How about you?