Saturday, December 09, 2017

Scott Frost and Mike Riley Head Home, Back Where They Belong

It's been a rather busy couple of weeks around here, even without the hustle and bustle of the holidays.

Two weeks ago, I was at my son's hockey practice, working on the CornNation report card from the Iowa game when suddenly the reports of meetings  in Lincoln broke.  We all knew what was going to happen; we just didn't know when.

I gave Mike Riley a chance; I really did, though I didn't think it was a good choice. But by October 2015, it was clearly obvious Shawn Eichorst had completely bungled that coaching search. There simply was no excuse for those losses to Illinois and Purdue. And when people tried to blame those on "talent", I knew that that many people were simply choosing to believe whatever they wanted to believe, facts be damned. Kind of like our politics today, but I digress.

So I knew it was only a matter of time before Riley was out of Lincoln.  The only thing that I got wrong was the timing; I thought he'd survive this season at 7-5.

That was in response to a Twitter meme asking for the most socially unpopular opinion you had.  So yes, I knew he'd fail; I just didn't think he'd fail so massively and completely.  Where did he go wrong?

It turns out that the only person who really thought Riley would be a good fit at Nebraska was Shawn Eichorst. Riley wouldn't normally leave Oregon State, but he was under pressure there; he had just been told that his assistants weren't getting contract extensions, and he knew their time was up.

Minutes later, Eichorst calls and offers him a golden parachute. Riley takes his whole embattled staff and uproots them to Lincoln; Riley really wasn't expecting a new job and wasn't thinking about how he'd do things differently.  Instead, all his buddies got their salaries doubled and more time before the inevitable.  Stability, for the gang.

Yes, I said more stability.  They all would have been fired by Oregon State within a year or two.  So Mike Cavanaugh getting three more years of pay (at a huge, unjustified raise) plus severance from Nebraska.  So that was a better situation for Riley's guys.

But that was, in the ends, the genesis of Mike Riley's failures.  Other than Trent Bray and Keith Williams, none of his assistants should have been hired by a program like Nebraska's. Riley slowly came to that recognition and fired three of them. Another left on his own accord.  And maybe if Riley could have found a way to scramble to get to seven or eight wins in 2017, he might have had an opportunity to replace unqualified assistants like Cavanaugh or Danny Langsdorf.

But he couldn't.  And in the end, that may have worked out in Nebraska's favor.  As it became clear that a coaching change was coming after Thanksgiving, I started to put together my list of candidates.  And frankly, Scott Frost wasn't on top of my list initially.  I had TCU's Gary Patterson and Stanford's David Shaw higher up on the list.

Those would have been stretch hires, to be sure. NU would have had to pay dearly to get proven coaches like that to Lincoln, but that's money Nebraska now has, thanks to the Big Ten's new television deal.  Nebraska had mucked around long enough that it was time for NU to just go ahead and prove that this athletic program was serious about competing for championships.

But as we got to November, Frost moved up to the top of the list. Not because I thought he was better than Patterson or Shaw, but simply because there was no way Nebraska could NOT offer Frost the job.  The native son is the only undefeated coach in division 1-A and was being pursued by other blue blood programs such as Florida and Tennessee.

How could Nebraska and Bill Moos offer anybody other than Frost?

In that light, it was a no-brainer to chase Frost. Could he have used another year or two of seasoning at Central Florida?  I'd say yes.  But the circumstances at UCF, Florida, Nebraska and Tennessee forced the timing to 2017.

Some people had heartburn initially that Frost and his staff were going to split their time between coaching UCF in the Peach Bowl and recruiting players to Lincoln.  I wasn't, because the most important thing Frost could do was to respect and not abandon his UCF players. It's more work for him, and while it might hurt recruiting a bit initially to try doing two jobs 2000 miles apart, it'll pay off long term.

That Peach Bowl broadcast will be a recruiting event for Frost; maybe not so much for the 2018 class, but definitely for 2019.  He'll showcase an exciting modern offense that should interest athletes across the nation.

And man, after watching a bit of last week's Central Florida/Memphis game, I can't wait to watch Frost's offense in Lincoln. After three seasons of Mike Riley's cold bologna sandwich offense, I'm starving for a modern college football offense. Now, a lot of people are concerned about the defense that UCF showed in their final two games; let's be patient on that.  (And truthfully, the Blackshirts were so befuddled the second half of the season, that even a porous defense would still be an upgrade.) There are a lot of reasons why the Knights' defense allowed a lot of points, and some of them aren't their fault.

Speaking of Riley, I'm not completely surprised he's back at Oregon State in an advisory role. Corvallis has been his home almost his entire life; the only thing I felt sure about was that Riley wasn't going to be a head coach.  What would surprise me is seeing any of Riley's long standing assistants getting jobs like they had at Nebraska ever again.  Danny Langsdorf will probably do the best; the New York Giants liked him as pure quarterbacks coach. I suspect he'll head that direction again; like Bill Callahan, I think most smart football people recognize that playcalling isn't in his skill set.  The Williams' will do best in their post Nebraska careers. Donte is a top notch recruiter; perhaps some day, he'll hook up with a defensive coordinator who'll help him with his coaching ability.  Keith is a solid receivers coach who'll get a look somewhere else; he's the one Riley assistant I would have liked to stay in Lincoln.

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