Photo by Pat Radigan
Story by Pat Radigan
On Saturday afternoon just after 2 p.m., Mike Riley stepped in front of a room full of cameras at Memorial Stadium, clad from head-to-toe in Nebraska gear.
The Riley Era
Nebraska’s 4-8 record in 2017 leaves Riley with a 19-19 career mark, including a 6-12 record over his final 18 games in charge.
- Riley is owed $6.6 million for a contract that was set to expire in February of 2021
- Husker LB coach Trent Bray will serve as interim coach until a replacement is named
Any other Saturday in November, this would have been normal business at Memorial Stadium but it wasn’t. Riley stood in front of the media just five hours after learning he would no longer be serving as the head coach of Nebraska’s football program.
There were some similarities to postgame press conferences, though. Riley thanked everyone in attendance. He shared his appreciation for the program and spoke about his excitement for its future, and said he chose to speak to the media after his firing to send a message that he, along with his staff, appreciated the opportunity to coach at Nebraska.
“We talked for about 15 or 20 minutes and it’s no surprise to me that he took that very, very well,” said Nebraska athletic director Bill Moos of his meeting with Riley on Saturday morning. “He’s an incredible human being and a very, very good coach.”
For fans, players and media members alike, it’s no surprise that Riley didn’t react in a negative manner. During his time at Nebraska, Riley was focused on the game but seemed to put just as much energy and excitement into building relationships with his players and helping them off the field as well.
“A lot of feelings and emotions, for sure. A lot of disappointment, I suppose. But at the same time I’m going to remain, and believe, in being thankful,” said Riley.
It’s not common for a head coach to make a statement and field questions from the media immediately after being fired, but Riley isn’t a common guy. His willingness to talk about his experience with the program over the past three years made it clear why he was a coach Husker fans wanted so badly to believe in.
“I think (Moos is) a great guy, I’m excited for what he brings to the program. I think he’s the right man for the job here at Nebraska, so it’s an exciting future with him leading the way.”
Riley started the appearance by thanking media members for being there. He cracked a joke about his meeting with Moos interrupting his film review that morning; he talked about the community of people he has met in Lincoln and how his wife, Dee, enjoys playing tennis here.
Riley spoke multiple times about being thankful for his time with the program said he is confident the pieces are in place for Nebraska to continue to grow. And he meant it.
“I do appreciate how they handed it and how Bill explained it to me and took the time to do that,” Riley said about Moos allowing the coaching staff to finish out the 2017-18 season.
Moos said he weighed his options coming into the program and didn’t dismiss the idea of retaining the coaching staff. However, he said the decision to make a change with the football staff was made after the program finished 1-of-4 in those five weeks, including three blow out losses.
“I just didn’t feel that the program was progressing like I had hoped it would,” Moos said.
Moos took over as Nebraska’s athletic director after Shawn Eichorst was fired on Sept. 21. At that point in the season, the Huskers were 1-2 with losses to Oregon and Illinois. NU would win just three more games, against Rutgers, Illinois and Purdue, over the next two months.
Confidence in the program was high before the start of the season with former UConn head coach Bob Diaco stepping in as defensive coordinator and a new quarterback in Tanner Lee, a transfer from Tulane, among other changes. However after a rocky start, the program showed its struggles, ending with the worst season in 56 years.
For players, the loss of Riley from the program was tough to handle and after the Iowa game, many expressed their appreciation for a coach that wanted more than anything for them to succeed.
“I think he’s one of the most influential in my life so far,” Lee said Friday about playing for Riley. “I’d say in a quick two years I’ve learned more from him than I could have ever imagined. I think the way he’s handled this season, I think there’s not another man on Earth that could have done it like him…I am so lucky to have played for Coach Riley, it’s unbelievable.”
Moos said on Saturday that he doesn’t have a specific coach in mind to take over the program but had narrowed his list down to about six names.
Linebackers head coach Trent Bray will take over as interim head coach for the Huskers until a new coaching decision is made. Moos said there is currently no set schedule for the hiring of a new coach but doesn’t want the Dec. 2017 early signing date to hinder the process and cause a bad decision.
Moos listed a few qualifications of an ideal coach, which included head coach experience in the FBS,
“He’s excited about the future,” Lee said about Moos. “I think he’s a great guy, I’m excited for what he brings to the program. I think he’s the right man for the job here at Nebraska, so it’s an exciting future with him leading the way.”