The opening statement said it all:
"I want us to compete for Big Ten Championships and National Championships. But those pursuits are meaningless unless we do it the right way: with class, sportsmanship and integrity."
Nebraska Athletic Director Shawn Eichorst put his priorities on the table when he introduced Coach Mike Riley to Nebraska and its fanbase. Nebraska football would pursue championships, but class, sportsmanship, and integrity mattered. It was a direct hit in the direction of the former guy in charge, and the unspoken was more or less understood. Nebraska was moving in a different direction, not only because they wanted a championship, but because the entire package mattered. Most everyone knew that was where this search was going, but the man that came out on top was a bit of a surprise.
That was in December and here we are in July, seven months removed and roughly two months before pads and helmets are fastened as safely as possible and that red N on white hats beams out of the tunnel. So who is this guy? What is he all about? Why is he here? Excellent questions. I think it's time for a profile.
Head Coach Mike Riley
So... where did this guy come from anyways?
For those of you who were unaware, Mike Riley has been around the block a few times. As the son of a coach, Riley grew up with football. He was good enough to find his way to Alabama to play under Bear Bryant, and went directly into coaching after that. His stops have included assisting at USC as OC and QB coach, the CFL where he has two Grey Cups to his name, the NFL where he oversaw the disaster that was San Diego's dark years, and a long stint at Oregon State. Why there? Well, remember that whole son of a coach thing? Coach Riley grew up in Corvallis and was a hometown hero. He wanted Oregon State to be good and helped build it into something resembling relevant.
Okay, so he's old. Awesome, what are his credentials?
His college record as a head coach is 93-80, which may not really jump out at you. What will jump out at you is the zero next to conference championships. In fact, outside of his Grey Cup wins, Riley as a head coach has not exactly been championship material. In 2008 and 2009, he was extremely close, but being in a conference with USC and Oregon tends to make things a little difficult for a school like Oregon State. Speaking of which...
You're going to tell me Oregon State was a hard job, aren't you?
Well, I mean, let's talk about it at least. Oregon State without Mike Riley is a 421-470-50 school. For those of you keeping track at home, that is a rocking .472 winning percentage. Riley, with a better than that .538, won at a legitimately higher clip than most everyone else. Oh, and there is that little part where Nebraska generated better than $20 MM more in revenue than Oregon State did, which leads to different facilities, fan support, and general ease of job. Look, this is no guarantee of success, but a 14% increase in wins over everyone else at his school, playing against a stacked deck, and respected by his peers? I like it.
Whatever, tell me something about his style. What does he do well? What offenses is he running? Defenses? Special plays?
So here's the deal, Mike Riley is an offense guy and specifically, he makes quarterbacks better. Nebraska has picked up two recruits for the 2016 cycle already who look to prove that in Terry Wilson and Patrick O'Brien. Both of those kids have been getting rave reviews from critics, and a lot of the reason is because Riley found them and then they went and did work on the circuits. Of course, I'm jumping ahead a little bit.
One of those really interesting indicators is what quarterbacks end up in the NFL, and RIley has done alright. Last year, Sean Mannion was drafted, Sean Canfeild was drafted in 2010, and Derek Anderson in 2005. That's not a bad track record. He also has put a lot of other skill position players in the NFL including Brandin Cooks, Markus Wheaton, Jacquizz Rodgers, and Steven Jackson. Typically, Riley has ran a pass-first pro-style offense, but in general it seems like he likes to take advantage of the skill players he could get to Corvallis.
To date, he has not really tipped his hand too much at what he will bring to Nebraska. Still, looking at some of his best outputs at Oregon State, he liked efficiency. Zone run schemes with quick, smart backs. Quick reads by his WRs and TEs with smart combos that force defenses to pick their poison. Oh, and passes out to guys coming from the backfield as well as runs on jet sweep motion from the wideout position. Considering the strength of Nebraska lies in its RB stable and WR stable, I'd say that this is probably fairly indicative of where we will be going with Riley and Company. Guys like De'Mornay Piersen-El, Terrell Newby, Jordan Westerkamp, Imani Cross, Cethan Carter, and pretty much everyone who has a little speed should enjoy this offense. That is, if the QB position can get better. One of the biggest tasks Nebraska faces is getting Mike Riley and OC Danny Langsdorf to sprinkle their magic on Tommy Armstrong.
Alright, you've intrigued me a bit. At least I'm going to indulge you... but seriously, why this guy?
He says all the right things? Seriously, I know we will continue our arguments in the comments and until a game is played, there is not much I can say that validates firing a guy who wins 9 games a season for a guy who decidedly doesn't. Nonetheless, Mike Riley is here, and a big part of that is his reputation for class, sportsmanship, and integrity. Yes, winning will be what he is judged on, but Nebraska was looking for someone who could be the face of the University day in and day out. Riley seems to want to be that guy, and even if this is just transitional, you could do a lot worse.
Offensive Coordinator Danny Langsdorf
Before he came to Nebraska, Langsdorf was working with Eli Manning and the Giants. Sure, Langsdorf goes way back with Riley, but he had moved on to try his hand at the NFL. By all accounts, his one year there saw Manning improve in almost every category, but all it took for him to get back in the College game was hear Mike Riley's new gig. Langsdorf had spent nine years with Riley, and the chance to lead a school with this many bells and whistles? Well, it was hard to turn down.
The most impressive thing about Langsdorf is that he has around 19 years of experience under his belt and was an integral part to the tutelage of quarterbacks alongside Riley. He has spent time in the CFL, NFL, and college ranks, and will be responsible for figuring out how to blend old concepts with new concepts as Nebraska tries to go from a true spread to a pro-style. Now, I will say that Langsdorf is on record saying he would be open to various read offensive concepts and QB run concepts as part of a larger scheme, so it will be interesting to see if he - alongside Riley - can evolve to take advantage of already established skillsets.
Defensive Coordinator Mark Banker
Coach Banker has been with Riley for the long haul. With 35 years of experience under his belt, and 18 years with Riley, he continues the pattern of "coordinators with experience" that Riley talked about early and often as he was building his staff. Banker runs a 4-3 defense, but unlike Pelini's somewhat complex line play and chess-like alignments, Banker is all about attacking and forcing plays to the outside. This isn't just about assignment so much as it is all about getting to the guy with the ball and hitting him. That sounds really simple, but from every interview I've read, it sounds like that's the honest truth and I like where that could be going. On the backside, Banker will employ some form of Cover 4 most likely with some matchup zone style coverage. Honestly, a lot of this will depend on personnel, I'm sure, but looking at his history, that's where we are going with things.
Special Teams Coordinator Bruce Read
I'm just here to point out that Nebraska has a fulltime Special Teams Coordinator. Eat that B1G! We're coming after you with our kicking, punting, and returning.
Anything else I should know?
There are an incredible amount of unknowns still on the table. Nebraska did a complete overhaul from Strength and Conditioning to Recruiting to each coordinator and position coach. This is a staff that did go out and get youth, experience, excitement, and steady in varying degrees. It may be hard to believe this staff will do any better than Bo Pelini and his group, but hey, things look good on paper. We will have to wait until September 5th to know how it all turns out.