Woeful seasons at Oregon State, Nebraska point to Mike Riley's mismanagement

Oregon State, Mike Riley's old team, is 0-5 in Pac-12 play, and odds are the Beavers will go winless in their final four conference matchups and finish 2-10.

Nebraska, Mike Riley's new team, is 1-4 in the Big Ten and 3-6 overall. This is the first time in the Cornhuskers' history they've had six losses by the end of October, and they still have to play No. 7 Michigan State and No. 9 Iowa.

The Beavers went 5-7 in Riley's final year in Corvallis, their third losing record in five seasons. In the seven seasons under Bo Pelini before Riley arrived at Nebraska, the Cornhuskers never won fewer than nine games.

This is a recitation of the most obvious facts of Riley's recent coaching résumé. While a nuanced interpretation can be more charitable -- Riley built and sustained a solid Oregon State program that was once a national laughingstock and he's only in his first season at Nebraska -- the most obvious facts don't speak favorably of Riley and his staff.

Yet these unassailable bits of information aren't easy to type because Riley might be the authentically nicest guy in major coaching. That challenges objectivity, though most reporters try to keep personal feelings -- good or bad -- at bay.

I first wrote about Riley in 2001 when he was about to be fired by the San Diego Chargers. I last wrote about him in December when he bolted Oregon State for Nebraska, typing "everyone wins!" because the Oregon State-Riley marriage was growing stale and the Cornhuskers may have found a good fit. Before, between and after those two columns separated by 13 years, I've never heard anyone characterize Riley's pleasant public persona as a fraud.

Yet being pleasant is way down the list of what is demanded from Power 5 football coaches.

Riley, as would be expected by all who know him, has handled Nebraska's struggles with grace and openness. He hasn't made excuses. He hasn't bemoaned what he inherited from Pelini. He has answered every question, even the pointed ones, without lashing out at his inquisitors. He has been accountable for mistakes, of which there have been plenty.

Before he took questions from reporters Monday -- and after athletic director Shawn Eichorst sent out a statement of support -- Riley went to great lengths to anticipate reporters questions and to thank those who were still supportive, including Eichorst, chancellor Harvey Perlman and president Hank Bounds.

From Eichorst's message, "While many are understandably disappointed in the current record of our football team ... I am confident the future is bright because I see it in the eyes of our players and I am impressed by what I know is going on behind the scenes."

Asked about Eichrost's statement, Riley said. "I think it was a timely message. You combine the year we're having with the history of Nebraska and a new coaching staff, I think it was probably timely and well said."

So in terms of his social abilities, Riley remains unbeaten. He is handling this situation as well as he can as the program's public face. Yet there are tangible reasons to believe the 62-year-old Riley isn't going to work out in Lincoln.

Few want to say "winning is everything." But it pretty much is.

The team Riley left behind in Corvallis is in a shambles. It looked as if new coach Gary Andersen was taking over a weak team in the preseason -- it was picked last in the North Division in the preseason media poll -- and the Beavers have perhaps fallen short of even low expectations.

That speaks to the program Riley put together over 14 seasons, 12 consecutively.

The team Riley took over is in a shambles, too. It, however, went 9-4 last season, was picked second behind Wisconsin in the Big Ten West in the preseason media poll and was earning top-25 votes in both the AP and coaches' preseason polls.

That speaks to the initial coaching effort and program management Riley led.

Nebraska has won five national titles, 42 conference championships and is the fourth-winningest program in college football. It fired two of its previous three coaches after three- (Frank Solich) and four-loss (Pelini) seasons. Its quasi-comedic, horrible-fit hire, Bill Callahan, bookended five-win losing seasons in his four-year tenure.

While Riley's defenders could point to five losses coming by a combined 13 points, that speaks to the Cornhuskers' almost uncanny ability to rip defeat from the jaws of victory, a result of ineffective end-game coaching. Losing by 10 points last weekend to Purdue, one of the worst teams in Power 5 football, was rated by Lee Barfknecht of the Omaha World Herald as the program's worst defeat since a loss to Hawaii in 1955.

What was just last year a perennial bowl team frustrated with not winning the Big Ten and not being nationally relevant is now suddenly a rebuilding project. As Eichorst solicited Cornhuskers fans, "Your support and patience as Mike Riley rebuilds our storied program one brick at a time ..."

"One brick at a time?" Is this Nebraska or Vanderbilt?

Riley is an accomplished coach and nice guy, and being both over the course of a long career is an accomplishment in itself. But his recent coaching, objectively measured, doesn't inspire overwhelming confidence.

Emotionally, it's difficult to not root for Riley. Intellectually, it's difficult to argue for him.