By Tommy Rezac
Mike Riley is no longer Nebraska’s head football coach.
“At 9:00 this morning, I met with Mike Riley and notified him at that time that I was going to relieve him of his duties as head coach of Nebraska Football,” Nebraska athletic director Bill Moos said as he took the podium on Saturday afternoon.
“We talked for about 15-20 minutes. It’s no surprise to me that he took that very, very well. Incredible human being and very, very good football coach.”
Riley appreciated the conversation and the way Moos went about it.
“We met about three times while he was here, which I really appreciated,” Riley said. “I do appreciate how they handled it. How basically Bill explained it to me and took the time to do that. It was all really well done.”
Moos met with Riley’s assistant coaches at 9:30 a.m.
“I told them that all obligations obviously to them were going to be kept, and had members of my staff in the room to address questions,” Moos said.
Linebackers coach Trent Bray will serve as the interim head coach until a full-time replacement is found.
Bray’s father, Craig, was the defensive coordinator for head coach Dennis Erickson at Arizona State from 2007-2011. Moos’ son, Bo, played under Erickson and Craig Bray for all four seasons.
“I’ve known Trent Bray for a long, long time,” Moos said. “I knew him, respected him, and to me, it was someone I knew I could trust and had the respect of the players.”
As for any other assistants getting retained, Moos said it will depend their recruiting work. He mentioned “one or two” other assistant coaches from Riley’s staff could be kept on, but did not specify who. That decision will come down to the next head coach.
“I hire head coaches, and head coaches hire their assistants,” Moos said. “I would give the new coach every bit of flexibility to create his staff however he wants.”
Moos admitted he hadn’t gotten to know many of Riley’s assistants since he was hired on Oct. 15.
Moos then met with about 60-70 percent of the Nebraska Football team at North Stadium. Some of the players were not in town and unable to attend. Several of the players that spoke afterward said they received a text, notifying them of a team meeting that morning at 10.
“I told the players today, nobody wants to go 4-8,” Moos said. “I want to get this program to where we’re disappointed if we go 8-4. And that can happen again.”
The press release was received at approximately 10:13 a.m. in the form of a written statement by Moos.
“Mike Riley has brought tremendous professionalism and energy to the Nebraska Football program, but unfortunately, those attributes have not translated to on the field success,” Moos said. “After a thorough review of all aspects of our football program, I have chosen to move in a different direction.”
Shortly thereafter, a handful of players took questions from the media waiting outside of North Stadium.
Sr. kicker Drew Brown said they saw Riley after meeting with Moos to say their “final goodbyes and last thank yous.”
“He’ll be around for a little bit, so if we need anything from him, he’ll be there for us,” Brown said.
Jr. QB Tanner Lee said Riley handled “an obviously tough situation” about as well as anyone could.
“He encouraged us to finish strong in school and continue to do the right thing in life,” Lee said. “Just a lot of encouraging things.”
Brown said he’s encouraged by Moos’ plan for the future of Nebraska Football.
“He came here to be at the top and get Nebraska back at the top, and hopefully they’re able to accomplish that,” Brown said.
So. CB Lamar Jackson elaborated some on what Moos told the team.
“(Moos) basically told us he wants to bring Nebraska back to the top,” Jackson said. He said, ‘We want to stamp that ‘N’ up there with the best teams in the country.’ He’s going to go out there and go to work to find the best coach out there, the best coach available that can help this team to get where they need to be and where they’ve been.”
Moos began his press conference by giving a timeline of how the morning went, what he told Riley and the team, and what led to the final decision.
“I had five weeks to observe and assess the Nebraska Football program,” Moos said. “From the very beginning, I wanted to weigh all of my options. One of those was retention. But as you know so well during that period of time, we went 1-4, had three blowout losses, and I just didn’t feel that the program was progressing like I hoped it would.”
Moos’ first day on the job was Oct. 23. Nebraska beat Purdue 25-24 on Oct. 28, but lost the final four games of the season, including a 33-point loss to Minnesota and a 42-point loss to Iowa this past Friday.
“I didn’t feel good about the Minnesota game,” Moos said when asked when he knew it was time for a change.
Moos said as of early Saturday, the University is in a full-fledged search for a new head coach of Nebraska Football.
“The right fit, first of all, has to be someone with tremendous morals, a good teacher, a good mentor,” Moos said. “Someone who is competitive, a good teacher and preferably, has head coaching experience in major (FBS) college football.”
College football has an early signing period from Dec. 20-22 this year. Moos said in a perfect world, he’d like to have a head coach with a staff in place “quite a ways prior to that.”
“It’s All Right Here”
Moos assured that Nebraska has everything it needs from a resources stand point to compete for championships again.
“Everything is set here,” Moos said. “This table is set as well as any place in the United States in regards to resources, facilities, infrastructure and fan support.”
With everything in place, Moos believes it should take 2-3 years for a new coach to get Nebraska back to competing for championships, depending on the scheme and style of play the team runs.
“If I tried to bring in Mike Leach and run the veer option here, that’d probably take five years,” Moos said.
Moos said he’s had “third-party people” involved with agents, representatives and search firms in the search for Nebraska’s next head coach. He confirmed there are six candidates out there he views as “very good options.”
He was asked a number of times about the man atop many Husker fans’ shortlists, and if he’s a very good option.
“Scott Frost is a very good football coach,” Moos said. “He’s obviously a Nebraskan and is getting a lot of attention from other schools. Scott is somebody I’m considering, but I’m being very sensitive to the fact that he’s still coaching a team, and he’s having a heck of a run.”
“He’s one of ours, played for us, and has gone on and paid his dues. He’s got a good job that I believe he really likes, but he’s got a lot of interest in him right now.”
Frost has UCF ranked No. 15 in the country and unbeaten at 12-0 after topping No. 22 South Florida 49-42 on Friday night. UCF will now face No. 17 Memphis in the American Athletic Conference championship on Dec. 2 at 11 a.m. central.
There was a report earlier this week that newly hired UCLA head coach, and former head coach of the Oregon Ducks, Philadelphia Eagles and San Francisco 49ers Chip Kelly, had turned down an offer from Nebraska.
Moos said no offer has been made to any candidate, but thinks Kelly will do well getting back to coaching.
“He looks like he’s choking to death with that neck tie on ESPN,” Moos joked. “I’m sure he’s ready to get back to the visor and short-sleeved windbreaker.”
What about Kevin Sumlin?
“He had a Heisman trophy winner (Johnny Manziel in 2012),” Moos said. “I think he’s a really good coach and excellent recruiter.
“Don’t know him real well.”
Beilema was let go as Arkansas’ head coach late Friday night, immediately following their 48-45 loss to resurgent Missouri on Friday night. The Razorbacks also just finished 4-8.
“I served on an NCAA workforce with him. I was very impressed.”
Chris Peterson at Washington?
“I think he’s pretty happy where he’s at.”
Peterson was the head coach of Boise State from 2006-2013, where he won two Fiesta Bowls. He’s been the head coach at Washington since 2014.
Look back on Riley
Riley was appointed by former athletic director Shawn Eichorst on Dec. 5, 2014 to succeed Bo Pelini, who was dismissed on Nov. 30, 2014 after going 9-3 in his seventh season.
Riley, 64, finishes his three-year Nebraska at tenure at 19-19 overall and 12-14 in Big Ten play.
Nebraska finished the 2017 season at 4-8 overall and 3-6 in the Big Ten.
Four wins is the lowest total for a Nebraska Football team since 1961.
Riley had previously spent a total of 14 years at Oregon State in two different stints, finishing his time in Corvallis with a 93-80 record.
In 17 years as a head coach at the college level, Riley’s is 112-99. His best season in Lincoln came in 2016, when his team finished 9-4 overall and 6-3 in the Big Ten. The Huskers started 7-0 that season, but finished 2-4, including a 38-24 loss to Tennessee in the Music City Bowl.
Riley now becomes the fourth different coach to be dismissed from Nebraska since 2003.
>> Moos said Bray and no other staff members will be on the road this week recruiting, which could signal that a hire isn’t far away.
>> Nebraska got outscored 42-0 in the second half of their 56-14 loss to Iowa on Friday night. Moos was asked how he handled his feelings while that was going on.
“I had two Runzas,” Moos said to a room that broke out into laughter. “They’re pretty good, now I’ve got to tell you. I’ve had a lot of pleasant surprises after getting to Nebraska, and that’s a pretty good one.”
>> Moos said he’s had many conversations with fans all over the state, and “never wants to see Memorial Stadium empty in the third quarter again.” This was in reference to when Nebraska trailed Ohio State 35-0 at halftime in Lincoln on Oct. 14; the night before Moos was introduced.
You can contact Tommy at 402-840-5226, or you can follow him on Twitter @Tommy_KLIN.