Nebraska athletic director Shawn Eichorst surprised most of the college football world when he unceremoniously fired head coach Bo Pelini on Sunday.
Eichorst shocked everybody again on Thursday when it was announced that Nebraska is hiring Oregon State's Mike Riley to replace Pelini as head coach. Riley signed a five-year contract that will average $2.7 million per season.
"We are in this together to build young men and win championships, and they don't have to be exclusive of each other," Riley said Friday during an introductory press conference. "We're going to do it right. We're going to work hard."
NFL Media senior analyst Gil Brandt reported that Eichorst first offered the Cornhuskers job to Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema, who turned the opportunity down to remain in Fayetteville. The two know each other well from their time at Wisconsin but it appears Eichorst moved quickly on to his second option after being rebuffed by the former Badgers coach.
Riley, who served as head coach of the San Diego Chargers from 1999-2001, went 93-79 with the Beavers in two stints in Corvallis (1997-98 and 2003-14). He is best known for winning big games against ranked teams -- a requirement of Eichorst in finding a new coach -- and sending a number of players to the NFL, including New Orleans Saints rookie wide receiver Brandin Cooks. He reportedly made $1.5 million this season, while Nebraska paid Pelini a reported $3.1 million.
"(Riley is) a teacher, and he puts himself and others around him in position to be successful," Eichorst said Friday. "You've got to look at some of those (Oregon State) teams and some of the things he's been able to do. It's been quite remarkable."
Riley is widely considered one of the nicest coaches in college football and his demeanor stands in stark contrast to his often bombastic predecessor at Nebraska.
The 61-year-old is highly regarded for his ability to develop under-the-radar talent and do more with less, considering the resources at Oregon State. Riley is expected to lean heavily on his strong recruiting ties to Texas and California, two states that have produced some quality players for the Cornhuskers in the past.
The job change for Riley is considered quite surprising by those that know him because of how entrenched he was with the Beavers. He was a star quarterback at Corvallis High School while his father was an assistant coach at Oregon State and most of his immediate family still lives in the area.
Riley later played for Bear Bryant at Alabama, but turned down head-coaching opportunities at both Alabama and USC in the past.
"At the stage of my career, it was an opportunity to try something one more time," Riley said Friday. "If you're going to do it one more time, this is a great chance to do it at a great place."
Oregon State is in an interesting spot with an unexpected opening, given the tough nature of the job. Utah State's Matt Wells, Colorado School of Mines' Bob Stitt and Eastern Washington's Beau Baldwin could be head coaches that athletic director Bob De Carolis considers for the position.
De Carolis released a statement Thursday in response to Riley's departure.
"Although we are extremely disappointed of losing a person and coach the caliber of Mike Riley, we are happy for him regarding his new opportunity," De Carolis said in the statement. "We wish Mike, Dee and their family the best as his career begins a new chapter. Coach Riley has twice led a program, with integrity, to new heights and tremendous growth. The entire university owes him a well-deserved thank you. We are excited about the future for the loyal fans and donors of Beaver Nation as we launch our search for the new leader of our football program."
Pelini went 67-27 in seven seasons at Nebraska before being dismissed. Since 2003 (the start of Riley's second stint with the Beavers), Oregon State has produced 32 draft picks. Nebraska produced 45 picks over the same span.