Every athletic director in America needs Shawn Eichorst ‘s blueprint for hiring a football coach. Whether Nebraska fans like the hire or not, they should feel very good about how it happened.
There will be pundits talking about whether Mike Riley is the right guy, questioning whether firing Bo Pelini for a .500 coach at Oregon State is a bad move, and others saying Mike Riley will be to Nebraska what the slicer was to bread.
That stuff is merely guess work, but what stands out about the hire is Eichorst knew what he was doing, and that is a comforting thing.
Four days after firing Pelini, he had a new coach in place. That only happens if there is a carefully researched and well thought plan in place, and if the plan is executed well.
In hiring Riley, Eichorst did not use a committee, or a search firm or, given what everyone across the nation thinks of Riley as a person, a private investigator to do a background check.
He wanted a darn good football coach, and while Riley’s prowess as a big-time recruiter at a huge program needs to be decided, there is little disputing Riley can coach.
“He consistently upset teams that were on verge of doing things,” said former No. 1 NFL pick Keyshawn Johnson, who was a receiver at USC when Riley was the offensive coordinator. “I think the AD got it right.”
Eichorst fired Pelini, in essence, because he was gruff on the sideline and got beat by teams with less talent. His new coach needed different characteristics.
In the sometimes ugly world of college football, Riley is no Pelini. Riley still won’t offer kids during summer prospects camps, a secret practice many coaches employ despite NCAA rules stipulating a kid cannot be offered until he leaves campus. Riley asks the kids to call him when they leave.
Riley is polite, calm and respectful. He lived in Corvallis, Ore., and now will work in Lincoln, but if he was from Mayberry RFD, no one would argue. His “Aw Shucks” personality should fit well with he ‘Huskers.
He also has one other thing Eichorst wanted in a coach …the ability to coach. It was clear in statements made after Pelini’s firing, Eichorst didn’t think Nebraska was maximizing its talent. That should end.
“He beats teams with more talent,” Johnson said. “Look at Arizona State when they went to Coravllis (highly ranked), and they lost. Look what happened to some USC teams when they played against him. That’s what he’s capable of doing with less talent.
“I think his personality. He has a gr. Person. Not a yeller, or a screamer. Not a whole lot of yelling. It’s respect thing. Players will respect him. He’s a good teacher of men.”
Eichorst was not open about what he wanted his next coach to be during the Pelini firing press conference, but in reading between the lines, and in understanding Pelini’s perceived faults, it is clear what characteristics the next Nebraska coach needed.
There was a tweet from well-respect former Dallas Cowbods president Gilt Brandt that Nebraska offered Arkansas coach Bret Bielema the job, but he turned it down, which is why Eichorst moved to Riley. That only further illustrates Eichorst’s preparedness in handling the hiring.
He had a precise list, and knew he would be able to close a deal quickly so the transition could begin soon. That only happens if weeks, or months, are spent planning for this moment. There are things to know – buyouts, interest levels, fit in a program, etc. – when making a change like this. It does not gain clarity in 24 hours.
If Eichorst did not get Riley, given the directness in which this hire was executed, it is fair to believe the next name on the list would have resulted in just one more day’s delay. But, again, there was a plan.
That bodes well for Nebraska athletics moving forward. Need a new facility? Count on the athletic director to get it mapped out.
Need to ensure your assistant coach will get paid and not jump to a rival school? Eichorst will be diligent in lining up the numbers.
Whether Riley turns into the great coach Cornhuskers fans hope is not the point. Time will answer whether he can assemble a staff to recruit Texas, Southern California (where he has a nice base) and the Midwest, and whether he can implement his pro-style, one-back, balance offense at Nebraska.
Whether Riley is the answer hinges on so many things outside of Eichorst’s control, but at least there is this; Nebraska hired Eichorst to lead the athletic department, and with it came a guy who turned out to be a very good planner, which is a key ingredient in running an athletic department.
You can debate the decision to hire Riley, but at least Nebraska has an athletic director who knows how to plan, and who can carry it out.