At some level, most everyone who follows Big Ten football knows who Coach Mike Riley is, and while I could probably write 1000 words on him, I'm going to go in a different direction this morning. A good team really is only as good as the various coaches who make up the assistant ranks. Whether its the loud, rambunctious personality who gets the team fired up every day or the quiet, strategic type, it's important to have the right mix of talents. If there is one thing I think Mike Riley has seemingly done well - with some actual ratings still out due to this still being so new - it's hiring solid coaches. Here are some guys I think you all should know about.
Offensive Coordinator Danny Langsdorf
Coach Langsdorf got absolutely skewered at times last year for his playcalling, and if we are being completely honest, that's not totally unfair. One of the weaknesses of last year's staff was understanding what it was that he had to work with. For a guy who likes to run a pro-style, under center, decision-tree offense, he probably should have also realized that Tommy Armstrong is not the prototype for that setup. That said, his credentials are spot on, and it has been nice to see that he has a touch with making quarterbacks better. You can knock Armstrong's decision making, but he is getting better under one year of fulltime tutelage under Langsdorf.
On top of that, Coach Langsdorf has managed to help pull in some major recruits from Patrick O'Brien last year to Tristan Gebbia this year. The jury is still out on his ability to call a complete game that is successful in the Big Ten, but he has at least intrigued a good portion of talented kids to look at - and choose - Nebraska. I would certainly be interested in how that plays out down the line, and I think you'll find that when it's all said and done, he made the team better. Not much more you can ask for out of an OC.
Defensive Coordinator Mark Banker
One of the longtime partners of Mike Riley is Coach Mark Banker. From Oregon State and San Diego, Banker has been there all along. While Langsdorf has felt a little all over the place, Banker seems just a bit stubborn. Nebraska's obvious weakness last year was the inability to cover the pass, and a huge part of that was moving from Pelini's matchup zone concepts to a quarters coverage that forced a lot more one-on-one accountability in the secondary. The results were damning, but to Banker's credit, he kept teaching and scheming, and by the end of the year, Nebraska truly was a better team than game one. I think that's a good thing?
If we're being honest, the key to Banker's success will hinge on his ability to mold the secondary into a much cleaner unit. He is taking over the secondary coaching duties on top of his DC duties this year, and he said he hopes to be able to be a little more in the weeds as 2016 approaches. Perhaps last year was just simply an issue of adjustment and trying to figure out the pieces he had to work with. I'd hope so. Oh, and while we're here, he does have some recruiting chops too. Lamar Jackson and Marquel Dismuke say hello.
LB Coach Trent Bray
One of the youngest coaches at Nebraska is also one of the best. Coach Trent Bray has only seven years of coaching under his belt, but he is rising fast. Remember when Nebraska linebackers had no idea where they were supposed to be? (See: Wisconsin scoring again and again and again and again) That doesn't happen nearly as often now. And, while you could argue that perhaps Bray isn't singularly responsible for all of that improvement - considering scheme and what not - you cannot argue with his recruiting ability. The guy is an ace on the trail, and I would keep an eye on his ascension in the coaching ranks fast. Let's just hope the bags of money Nebraska is throwing at him keeps him around for a while.
WR Coach Keith Williams
This guy is the brash personality Nebraska loves to have on their side. Even though Coach Williams did not have the deepest background with Mike Riley, you can tell why he wanted him here. He lives, breathes, and embodies what a wide receiver should be. That matters, and when you see how talented that group is at Nebraska, you can't help but like where he is going. His twitter is a mix of recruiting stories, wide receiver drills, and just mouthy trash talk. Oh, and if you don't think any of that matters, think about how many WRs are thinking about Nebraska now. Sure, getting Keyshawn Johnson, Jr. to campus was all about his dad's connection to Riley, but Coach Williams secured things. He is one of the most important cogs in the wheel, and he's making Nebraska a big deal on the recruiting circuit.
The New Guy
DL Coach John Parrella
Finally, I'm going to end it talking about the newest coach to Riley's staff. Last year, the defensive line had a lot of talent, but it also managed to lose four guys who could be starters this year. Is that just the lure of the NFL? Is it bad luck? Is it miscommunication with outgoing DL Coach Hank Hughes? Probably a bit of all of that, but Riley knew enough that he needed to make a change. In comes former Husker walk-on John Parrella. Not only did he go from walk-on to the NFL, but he also moved his way up the coaching ranks the way you like to see. He's the type of guy who is going to get down in a defensive stance in practice and fire up the linemen in a way that only a former NFL player who loves his school can. I'm not sure of his recruiting style quite yet, but the early reviews inside the team are positive. He embodies what it takes to put together a diverse set of skills and background in a coaching staff, and I think going forward, you'll see the rewards of having the hometown kid on the staff.