COMMENTARY: Riley to USC? Surely you jest

RAMPANT RUMORS AND college football coaching moves go together like peanut butter and jelly. It's been said that the offseason -- what with recruiting and the coaching carousel at full pitch -- is like a soap opera for grown men. Based on the last 24 hours or so, welcome to the 2010 Oregon State version of General Hospital.


The rumors continue to fly fast and furious today, an avalanche of speculation touched off by the firing of Jim Mora Jr. after just one season as the head coach of the Seattle Seahawks. The immediate leak was that the Hawks and Pete Carroll had mutual interest -- by the end of the day the "story" had morphed into, 'the job is Carroll's if he wants it.'

It wasn't long before USC officials were, reportedly, leaking the list of coaches they would be possibly considering should Carroll make the leap (back) to the NFL. At the top of that list, per ESPN's Bruce Feldman and followed by numerous media reports, is Mike Riley.


PARDON ME IF I'm not as into the Chicken Little act, because I've been here before. I remember the LAST time USC was on a coaching search. And I recall the "Dennis Erickson to USC is a done deal" stories. Anybody remember what happened back then? Anybody?

The fact of the matter is, Riley would be crazy to take that job. Crazy. The expectations are sky-high and there is absolutely no room for error when you are coaching the Trojans. Every move is scrutinized, and not just by the media.

Go take a look around the web -- you'll find USC sites where fans are breaking down film, complete with X's and O's diagramming like it's Monday Night Football. A few seasons back, when the Trojans were dominating most everyone, they sometimes started slowly. Message boards back then overflowed with USC fans calling Carroll and the players idiots, and worse -- until the third quarter rolled around.

Football isn't just big-time at USC -- it's L.A.'s NFL franchise.

BUT THE OTHER shoe is poised in mid-air, and the hammer is poised to drop, if I could mix metaphors for a moment. The Reggie Bush investigation is 4 1/2 years old, and finally perhaps starting to pick up speed now that some of the civil lawsuits are out of the way. And then along comes the Joe McKnight situation.

And fair or not, being that they were basketball program foibles, the O.J. Mayo and Tim Floyd catastrophes cast a pall over the entire athletic department, bringing words to the lips of pundits and analysts alike, albeit at a whisper: Lack of Institutional Control.

Edmond Stockdale said "Money isn't everything... but it's a long way ahead of what comes next." That might be true, but I have a hard time believing that Mike Riley's most pressing concern is money.

I had the good fortune to meet coach Riley, and shake his hand in the VFC offices after a game one day a few years ago. Riley was dressed in tennis shoes, Dockers, and a plaid short-sleeved shirt. I don't think he's the kind of guy that would risk everything to make two million instead of one million.

And I'm not sure that anyone who has met him in person, away from his job as the CEO of Oregon State football, could argue any differently.

THIS IS A MAN who has talked in interviews about his wife worrying terribly every year that defensive coordinator Mark Banker may be moving away from Corvallis to pursue a head coaching job elsewhere. Mrs. Riley has a close friendship with Mrs. Banker.

Don't discount the work that Riley has put in at Oregon State either. He's spoken often about finishing what he has started, and the unspoken part of the equation is the amount of sheer effort that Riley and the staff have done instilling a culture in Riley's image at Oregon State.

That very culture is a big reason behind Riley's success at OSU. It's a family atmosphere, and a certain ethos that permeates the program from top to bottom. And make no mistake, creating that depth and scope of culture is a task. At 56, Riley will be asked to start that process all over again, because he and Carroll have vastly different styles.

IT JUST DOESN'T fit. Money is the big draw but quality of life, unrealistic expectations, possible sanctions looming, and a program that will need to be re-tooled in Riley's image is a pretty uneven balance to evaluate. Lot of bad, not much good.

Don't get me wrong - Riley is probably still going to talk with 'SC.

For one, he has a relationship and a history with USC. Two - it's good business.

It's a professional courtesy, but beyond Riley's name being tossed about for the USC job is publicity for Oregon State, and good publicity at that. It lends more credibility to the program, and while it's doubtful that Riley needs any more leverage than his resume, given the volatility of the coaching profession, you still see coaches will all the job security in the world seek that leverage.

Most importantly, perhaps, it may also give Riley the opportunity to secure some raises for his staff.

When it's all said and done though, Mike Riley will remain at Oregon State.

He'd be crazy not to.

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