New head coach Mike Tice is looking in all the right places as he tries to round out his coaching staff. Among the offensive coordinator candidates is the recently dismissed head coach of the San Diego Chargers, Mike Riley.
Riley did a good job with the Chargers, but the wins just didn't come fast enough. The rap on Riley in San Diego was that he might have been "too nice a guy."
Riley's coaching history before San Diego was filled mostly with success. He won three Grey Cup championships in the CFL, including two as a head coach. He was in on two national championships in college, including one as a player at Alabama and one as a coach at Linfield College. He coached in three major bowl victories, including the Rose, Cotton and Freedom Bowls during his tenure as an assistant coach at the University of Southern California.
His ability to relate to people and communicate are considered among his greatest strengths. "One thing that Mike [brought] to the San Diego Chargers [was] great communication," said Chargers Chairman of the Board Alex Spanos. "Communication not only with owners, coaches, but with players. He relates to them so well. The players believe in him, and that's big. If you believe in an individual, no matter who he is, you'll do whatever it takes to win for that person."
Despite his dismissal in San Diego, Riley is still highly regarded as a coach and as a person. "The players see a lot of truth and honesty in Mike," said Chargers president-CEO Dean Spanos. "He's very straightforward. The players see that in him immediately. There's a natural bond that's created there, and that's why the players call him a players' coach."
Riley is extremely well-liked and universally admired by players and coaches everywhere.
"I love that guy," said Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson, the first player chosen in the 1996 NFL draft who studied under Riley at USC. "When I first got to play for him, I was just someone running around the field in high school and junior college. But he taught me how to read coverages, understand what quarterbacks are doing, why players do different things. He helped me become the No.1 pick."
"He's the man. He's probably the coolest coach under pressure I've ever seen," said Buffalo Bills quarterback Rob Johnson, who like Keyshawn was tutored by Riley at USC. "He doesn't have an ego, first of all, besides being a great coach. He's a good man."
While playing for Riley, Johnson set 20 NCAA, Pac-10 and USC records and became the Trojans' all-time passing leader.
Another of Riley's charges, wide receiver Johnnie Morton, became USC's and the Pac-10's career receiving leader with 201 catches for 3,201 yards. After Morton, Keyshawn Johnson picked up the torch by setting school records for passes caught in a single season with 102 in 1995 and for most 100-yard games in a season with nine in 1994. Keyshawn ranks second in school history in receptions (176) and receiving yards (2,940) after playing for Riley and the Trojans for two seasons. All three players earned first-team All-Pac-10 honors before becoming first-round draft picks and moving onto successful NFL careers.
"If you go to heaven and you look around and Mike Riley isn't there, you'll know you're not in heaven," said UNLV coach John Robinson, who was the head coach at Southern California while Riley was there. "I challenge you to find one guy that says one bad thing about him. I wish I was as good a man as Mike Riley."
"He's a gentleman," said former Vikings quarterback and current ESPN football analyst Sean Salisbury, who played for Riley in Winnipeg. "He's 10 times a better man than he is a football coach, and he's a heck of a football coach. Mike Riley is one of those guys that if he had to bench somebody, he could bench him and the guy would still love him. He will handle any situation that comes up. Look no further than Tony Dungy to find out the kind of demeanor he has, and Tony has no problem getting people to react to him. He treats you with respect and just asks that you do the same. As a player, that's all that you can ask."
Riley has 26 years of coaching experience. He has spent 10 seasons as a head coach, including two in the NFL (1999-2000), two on the collegiate level (Oregon State, 1997-98), four in the Canadian Football League (Winnipeg, 1987-90) and two in the World League (San Antonio, 1991-92).
Before joining the Chargers, Riley spent two seasons as head coach at Oregon State where he helped resurrect one of college football's most downtrodden programs.
Tice would be getting a quality coach and a quality person if he went with Riley as his new offensive coordinator.
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