The sky is falling in Lincoln, but Mike Riley isn't going anywhere
When Shawn Eichorst made the bold move to hire Mike Riley, he left many scratching their heads.Ten months later, Eichorst hasn’t made believers out of his big-time hire.
Nebraska is looking to avoid six losses before November for the first time in program history. If it loses to a Purdue team that hasn’t won a B1G home game in three years, it might go down as Nebraska’s lowest moment ever.
Nobody has faith that the Huskers can hold a fourth-quarter lead, all nine units have been inconsistent at best and there isn’t some top-10 recruiting class coming in to save the day.
Still, Eichorst is not booting Riley after one year in Lincoln.
That wording is key. No matter how much Nebraska fans — which you could argue are the most loyal in the country based on their 55-year sellout streak — call for Riley’s job, it isn’t happening. Not yet, at least.
Despite their borderline obsessive loyalty to the program itself, Nebraska fans are not a patient bunch. The only thing that would ever turn them into one is if a massive NCAA penalty decimated the program and forced it to build from the ground up. As long as Nebraska has the resources to churn out a winner, anything less than nine wins — you can debate that benchmark — will be unacceptable.
The argument is that Riley has all the resources to be winning, but he isn’t doing it. Eichorst knows that. The whole reason he ignored Riley’s Oregon State mediocrity was because he believed he had the tools to thrive with Nebraska’s recourses. So far, that’s a swing and a miss.
Still, Eichorst has no choice but to let this thing play out now. The $6.5 million he paid Bo Pelini not to coach certainly has a big say in that. It doesn’t matter how much revenue you have coming in. If you set your bar so high that you’re willing to eat that much money, you’re putting your job on the line. Eichorst cannot simply wash his hands with Riley — even if he loses out — and move on to the next hire.
It doesn’t work like that.
Nebraska’s situation is different than maybe any in the country because nobody is more frustrated being in college football purgatory than the Huskers.
It isn’t like the situation that Jim Harbaugh took over at Michigan, where he had a five-win bar set from Brady Hoke. The Wolverines could easily wind up with only eight wins this year and it would be deemed a wild success.
If you told a Nebraska fan before the season that Riley would win eight games, it likely would’ve been viewed a letdown, considering that would’ve been the program’s worst season since Bill Callahan’s 5-7 mark in 2007. Eichorst dug his own grave by saying that nine wins weren’t good enough, even though this Ameer Abdullah-less Nebraska team had no shot at nine wins.
The reality is that most first-year coaches don’t lead their teams to nine wins. Even Nick Saban only won seven games in his first season at Alabama. I’m not saying Riley is in the same galaxy as Saban, but even at the most football-crazed places in the country, there’s a level of patience for a first-year coach.
Unless a team goes winless, an athletic director cannot justify firing a coach for performance-based reasons after one season. If it does, it may as well follow the coach right out the door. Could Riley find himself dealing with Charlie Strong-like heat if the Huskers struggle at the start of next season, too? Of course.
But Nebraska is too invested in the Riley experiment to turn around now. There’s no telling where it’ll take the Huskers or how long it’ll last.
For now, buckle up and brace for a bumpy ride.