CHICAGO, Ill - For 15 minutes, Nebraska head coach Mike Riley took part in a podium session at Big Ten Media Days on Friday morning. The session, which was live on the Big Ten Network, was more a chance for the national media to ask the new head coach questions.
In addition, Riley will talk with local reporters later Friday afternoon in a roundtable type of setting.
— Nebraska on BTN (@NebraskaOnBTN) July 31, 2015
COACH RILEY: Good to see everybody. I'm excited to be here. Very proud to represent Nebraska and our football program. It has been a little bit of a whirlwind. I haven't transitioned in a long time. So I forgot what all the newness was about a little bit. But it's been fun. First impressions about Nebraska are things that you already know, the passion for the place, the involvement and the engagement of the fans and the people there. It's been really interesting to see and be a part of.
Spring game itself was very interesting to me. We had quite a few people show up for that. And we had a lot of fun with it. It was a great, great atmosphere. Outside the stadium it looked like a big family picnic to me.
The other part of it that is the people that are affected most about a transition are probably the players. I've been really impressed with this team, the closeness that they've had with one another. The feelings that they have about the place that they're at. They really believe in Nebraska. And they are a good, close-knit group that believe in each other. So that's kind of a fun team to get to join from that standpoint.
We brought three guys that I hope you get to visit with at some point. They are also three captains. Nate Gerry on defense and Tommy Armstrong as our quarterback on offense. And then Jordan Westerkamp, a receiver, that's actually from Chicago. Those three guys are here with me today.
So we are excited about getting started with fall camp. We've got -- we've had a lot of work to do in the football end of it. My experience in the past has been involved with a lot of quarterbacks that have been very good dropback, in-the-pocket players.
We have a quarterback and quarterbacks in our program now that have different skill sets. So the blending of what we've done and what we intend to do with this team and then the establishing of an identity that's going to look good on the field is going to be kind of the exclamation point we have to put on during fall camp.
So it's -- the transitioning part is not easy, but it's also exciting. And then we're also -- I'm personally excited about being in a new conference. The Big Ten, of course, is for us -- we don't have any books on anybody. We're going to be starting a little bit fresh. But that also is a lot of -- in my world of coaching football and going to new places, new stadiums with a great history like there is in the Big Ten, it will be really a lot of fun.
So I'll open it up to questions. Anybody want to ask about what we're doing, we're in a good place now. We're undefeated and just starting our history at Nebraska. Anybody got anything?
Q. Coach, the tradition of Nebraska speaks for itself. But you had multiple opportunities to go to other elite schools, back to the NFL. What was it about the call to Nebraska that grabbed your heart?
COACH RILEY: I think probably the timing of the call was probably the only way I can really explain it. Because I really -- my wife and I went back to Oregon State in 2003. We really thought we were going to stay for the end of my career.
But this phone call at this time, it was like we looked at each other and she said, "This is something we should talk about." And really what we decided -- we just loved our life together and our life in football. And we've loved every place we've been. We didn't know we'd ever get into this rollercoaster of what we do, but we've enjoyed it.
And, basically, our thought process was this is a great place. I have information about the people that are there that I really like. And we said we had time for one more big adventure in our life. So here we are, and here I am in Chicago at the Big Ten meeting with a new tie on and excited about a new adventure.
Q. Can you talk about your relationship with Paul Chryst over the years and what did you see in him as a young coach when you first started working with him?
COACH RILEY: Well, Jason, that's a fun part of the deal. You know, the longer you're in this business, the connections that you have, they just seem to grow. They have a life of their own.
Paul and I started together in 1991 with a World League of American football team called the San Antonio Riders. I was actually -- we were coaching a team. We were in our -- basically our training camp. And our receiver coach was Phil Savage that many of you know, might know that name. And Phil got an offer from the Cleveland Browns. He basically had to go. He was an intern for us.
I said, you got to go even though it was right during our training camp. And then the guy I called on the recommendation of our general manager of that team was Paul Chryst. And it was one of the greatest calls I ever made in my life.
Since then, we've coached together. Our families kind of grew up together. And I really admire him as a person and a football coach. And I've enjoyed him a ton and it's a very unique situation that we find ourselves in today now coaching against each other in the same division in the Big Ten Conference. But I'm proud of that. That's an exciting thing to me. So that's where we go back to.
We've coached college together. We coached some pro football together. And through all that time, we've just had a lot of fun talking about football, family, all the things that go into life.
Q. When you took over, what was the biggest change you had to make culturally within the Nebraska locker room?
COACH RILEY: There wasn't a lot that we had to do with what was going on with that team. I think it's the
biggest -- probably the biggest thing that is important to me personally about a program is making sure everybody understands the values that we want in a program. And so that -- and that becomes a process that takes place through time as you go forward.
I found these kids to be open. And that was kind of one of my first steps, is that in a situation like this, there has to be an initial trust and a little bit of an openness and not defensiveness because things are going to naturally in some way be different. People are different. What you think is important is different. How we teach a play or how we teach somebody to play might be a little different. That's to be expected. Just be open with us.
But what was most important to me and something that is an ongoing deal is the process of what you want in the program, not necessarily the plays but the values that you want, what you want this thing to represent. So that's really what we did. We don't have to pay too much attention to the past that way. We just go forward with these guys and coach and do our job.
Q. You mentioned earlier obviously you had a lot of success over the years from a pro style-type quarterback. These guys you have on campus might be a little different skill set. How do you balance getting your system in place at a new program with trying to do what will help you win the most games this season?
COACH RILEY: That is a great question about football coaching in general, is the selection of what you do is so important that you have enough but not too much is always a big deal. And then when you coach for a long time, you've got all these plays and all these thoughts in your mind about what you like.
But you have to be very careful and particularly in this situation because we want to go off into a little bit different game for us to utilize the talents of the quarterback. So we've had to do a lot of studying and being specific about what that really is and how that looks. And so we kind of dove into some of that stuff in spring practice and will continue with it.
And at the same time, we wanted to be selective about what we've done and done well in our past that would fit the skill set of the people that we have here. It's a good core of receivers. There's some good runners. And then the quarterbacks, like we've already mentioned, have a little bit different skill set and they're fun to work with.
And it's actually kind of fun to look into some of those new things for us. But what we have to do is be very good at selecting what this looks like and then practice it like crazy in fall camp. We've got to start with it in spring ball. And I like that. Some of it looked like football. Not totally yet. But some of it looked like football. So we've got a long way to go in that. That's a hard -- that's a scary part actually about transitioning a coaching job because when you're at a place like I was at Oregon State for that many years, you could go out in spring practice, put the ball down, make a call, call a cadence, run a play. And you could get started, like, just easily. And starting over with the huddle is kind of eye opening when you have to do that once again.
So we just have to be really careful in what we select to do. And then, like I said, we've got to practice it like crazy so it becomes our identity. That's what you're always looking for.
Q. You have a reputation especially in the PAC 12 of being one of the nicest guys in college football. Do you feel like you have to enter into the Big Ten giving yourself a bit of an edge to compete at this level?
COACH RILEY: I don't know about all that with the "nice guy" thing. I think that -- I always tell people -- I just hope they see a guy that loves what he does. I've coached football now for over 40 years. I do love it. I love -- and I think I enjoy other parts of it as much as the -- you know, you initially get into it because you like the game and you want to teach it and that's fun. But then there's so much more we can do in a program. So I've enjoyed that.
And I also tell people that the personality part of it, the neat thing about any -- probably any teacher that you've had in the past, personalities are different. But different kinds of personalities in our business have all been successful.
You can go from a personality like Tony Dungy to Jon Gruden and look at two different kind of guys but both very, very successful. So I really think that -- my dad always taught me just be yourself, enjoy what you do and -- because players see through phonies. So I'm just a guy I never thought I'd be in a crowd like this doing this. I always just enjoyed the football. I grew up with it. My dad coaching it. I loved being in the locker room, on the bus, on the sideline. That was just a great way to grow up. And here I find myself doing this now, and I'm going to enjoy it. And that's what I hope people see in general.
Q. Coach, what's it been like for you to work with a quarterback like Tommy Armstrong, whose skill set are different than some of the guys you worked with in the past at Oregon State and the NFL?
COACH RILEY: Like I said earlier with Tommy, he's able to run the football. He's had experience running some of the zone read stuff. His mobility in throwing the football outside the pocket is good. So it's made us in a lot of ways kind of get out of our own box and look at what's good for the players because what you want to do all the time is not necessarily what's going to be best to do for your team. And so discovering it and selecting that, like I said, is a big, big issue in how this is going to look in this season.
Q. Have you started digging in heavily on Big Ten opponents? And how much do you consult with friends in the business to try to get a feel for what you're going to be facing?
COACH RILEY: We use our friendships around the country to try to gather information for sure. And we have studied every team to some extent. There's going to be some newness even within the league that we'll have to look at as we go, like Wisconsin. But that might be a little faster start than most as we look at teams.
But, in general, what we've done is look at the overall picture of things we're going to see, how many four-man front defenses are we going to see. How many three-man front defenses are we going to see? What are the lead coverages we see in general? And then put that into the practice plan.
And then offensively, how many spread teams are we going to see? How many standard pro-style offenses are we going to see? What are we going to have to look at here as we go through it? And that's what's important about how you install and what you do in camp. Because you've got to get a little bit of all that stuff in camp, so it doesn't become brand new when you do get into game week.
The establishment of what you do and then how that really fits with who you're going to play, that's the blending that has to take place. Some of it can take place in camp. And then it can be specific as you get into the game week to week.
Q. Following up on that, as you studied Big Ten teams and stuff, is there a difference? Have you noticed a difference between Big Ten ball and Pac-12 ball and what is it?
COACH RILEY: I think if you'd asked that question, as you probably know, 15 years ago, you would have noticed a distinct difference in what people are doing in the two conferences from the west coast and then in the Midwest here.
As you look at it today, I think there's more versatility and diversity within conferences than ever before. There's spread teams in every league. It used to be that the kind of the common denominator was that the west coast had the passing wide open quarterback-oriented deal. And then the Big Ten was kind of the tailback-dominated conference, running the football, tough and physical.
I think that statistically, actually, the Big Ten is still running the football more. But there is way more versatility and it's hard to blanket it with one statement about what a conference is today because you see such diverse offenses throughout the country in different leagues.