Dienhart: Nebraska fires Mike Riley, turns the page again

Dienhart: Nebraska fires Mike Riley, turns the page again

Nebraska is turning the page … again.

In what has become a familiar story, the Cornhuskers have fired another head coach. This time, Mike Riley has been asked to clean out the big desk in the corner office of the Nebraska football complex.

It’s no understatement to say Riley’s three-year run was arguably the most forgettable in the storied history of this proud program since Bill Jennings coached from 1957-61. You remember Bill Jennings, right? Of course, you don’t. And, that’s the point. Now, Riley and his 19-19 record, including 4-8 in 2017, can take a seat next to Jennings.

“Mike Riley has brought tremendous professionalism and energy to the Nebraska football program, but unfortunately, those attributes have not translated to on-field success,” Moos said in a team release. “After a thorough review of all aspects of our football program, I have chosen to move in a different direction.”

No doubt, many felt the Big Red would continue skipping merrily down a championship path after Tom Osborne handed off to second lieutenant Frank Solich after leading NU to a share of the 1997 national championship. But the last 20 years have seen this once-proud program become a lost soul searching for its past greatness. It has been elusive.

Today, Nebraska is more like, say, Texas Tech than it is national powers like Alabama and Clemson. Will the Cornhuskers ever regain the edge that saw them win national three national titles in the 1990s and two in the 1970s?

Nebraska A.D. Shawn Eichorst raised some eyebrows when he announced way-out-of-the-box Riley, whose results were mostly middling at Oregon State. What was Eichorst thinking when he hired a 61-year-old coach who didn’t do much at Oregon State? What did Eichorst know that we didn’t know?

[ MORE: AP: Nebraska fires Mike Riley after 4-8 record in third season ]

Alas, Riley was a bust. Now, he and Eichorst are Nebraska footnotes.

No doubt, Riley was everything predecessor Bo Pelini wasn’t: personable, calm, cool, collected. Even friendly. In fact, you can’t find a person who doesn’t punctuate each description of Riley with “Gosh, he’s a nice guy.” Yep, Riley is one of the best. But, he couldn’t win. Kind words, a soft tone and backslaps will get a fella only so far in life. You have to produce.

The program made no progress from the Pelini era. In fact, it got worse under Riley’s stewardship in three of the most forgettable seasons in the proud history of this program. The dubious losses? Oh, golly. They are too painful and numerous to recount. Fans are still trying to bury them in the deep recesses of their mind.

Riley is an offensive mind who never really made Nebraska click on that side of the ball, thanks largely to a line that too often struggled. But it was the defense that was his ultimate undoing. The unit got progressively worse each season under Riley’s watch. And that was difficult to swallow for a school that reveals in the “Blackshirt” tradition of its defenders.

What in the name of Ndamukong Suh, Rich Glover, Grant Wistrom and Trev Alberts is going on out there?

Many names already are being mentioned as possible successors to Riley. It’s difficult to envision Nebraska hiring a hot coordinator. Instead, NU needs to make a splash hire by tabbing an accomplished head coach. No need for new A.D. Bill Moos to get cute and show us how smart he is by making an out-of-left-field hire. Ask Eichorst how that worked out.

Surely names like Oklahoma State’s Mike Gundy, Mississippi State’s Dan Mullen and Navy’s Ken Niumatalolo, among others will surface. But all eyes are on Central Florida’s Scott Frost.

Frost is one of the nation’s hottest young coaches. He inherited a winless UCF program in 2016 and went 6-7 with a bowl. This year, Frost has UCF unbeaten. And he’s doing it with one of the top offenses in the America.

What’s makes the Frost-to-Nebraska chatter all the more delicious is the fact he’s a native son who quarterbacked Osborne’s last team that won it all in 1997. Infatuation isn’t too strong of a word when describing the feelings of Nebraska fans for Frost.

“I expect to find a leader for our football program that will put our student-athletes in a position to compete for championships and grow as young men,” Moos said. “I am confident our next coach will meet that standard.”

College football is a better place when Nebraska is a strong program. And, it can be again with the right coach. Will the next hire finally be that guy?

Stay tuned. This is going to be interesting.

***

Tom Dienhart, BTN.com Senior Writer

About Tom Dienhart: BTN.com senior writer Tom Dienhart is a veteran sports journalist who covers Big Ten football and men's basketball for BTN.com and BTN TV. Find him on Twitter and Facebook, and send him questions to his weekly mailbag.

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