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Why Nebraska is firing Mike Riley, explained briefly

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Riley’s three-year run was a mediocrity.

NCAA Football: Nebraska at Ohio State Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports

Nebraska is firing head football coach Mike Riley, the school announced the morning after a 56-14 home loss to Iowa that dropped the Huskers to 4-8.

Riley finished his three-year Nebraska career with a 19-19 record.

All eyes will now turn to UCF’s Scott Frost, a former Husker QB who just took the Knights from a winless season to an undefeated regular season, and all with an innovative, exciting offense. SB Nation reported Nebraska’s also considering the triple option ... though Frost runs some of that as well.

Why’s he out?

This is a simple one: because he lost way too many football games. Riley’s record at Nebraska entering this season was 15-11, and then the Huskers turned in a lousy 2017.

You might retort that Nebraska is no longer anything near what it used to be, and you’d be right. But Riley still lost way more often than his predecessor, the much more contentious Bo Pelini, who rang up a 67-27 record in seven-plus years before getting fired.

Nebraska blog Corn Nation wrote after this year’s loss to Northwestern:

We’re beyond the point of arguing whether three years is enough for a coach, or whether Mike Riley had enough talent to win a conference championship. The bigger problem is that Nebraska keeps losing to teams with lesser talent, and then looks disinterested in trying to compete with teams with better talent.

Talent on the field isn’t the biggest problem with Nebraska. (Compare that to the carnage Iowa imposed on Ohio State [in Week 10] if you want evidence that the game of football isn’t just a battle of “Jimmies and Joes.”) Talent matters, yes. But so does development and coaching, and Nebraska has regressed in just about every area the last three seasons.

Was this the right move?

Yeah. Riley signed a one-year extension earlier this year, putting him under contract through 2020. But his buyout was $1 million before that, and there’s been no public indication that it’s changed. It seems Nebraska won’t have to pay Riley a lot of money to go away, at least as these things go.

Nebraska has been mediocre under Riley, including losing to a MAC team, Northern Illinois, for the first time in school history in Week 3 of 2017. The writing was on the wall after the school fired athletic director Shawn Eichorst, who hired Riley, in late September. Earlier in the season, there was a fair case for keeping him, based on good recruiting and this year’s team not going, like, 3-9. But keeping Riley became untenable as the losses piled up.

The 1990s were a long time ago, but the Nebraska job is still a good one. It pays about $3 million a year, carries a huge, passionate fanbase, and isn’t a bad position to recruit from. It’s also in the Big Ten West, by far the lesser of that conference’s two divisions. Lining up a better coach than Riley is doable.

Where was he before Nebraska?

Oregon State, where he went 93-80 over 14 years. Riley’s Beavers were often fine, peaking with a 10-4 mark and a Sun Bowl win in 2004. They finished the year ranked four times, which is impressive in a place like Corvallis.

Nebraska’s firing of Pelini in late 2014 started a chain reaction, where Nebraska hired Riley, and Oregon State hired Wisconsin’s Gary Andersen to replace him. That led to Wisconsin hiring Pitt head coach Paul Chryst, and Pitt in turn hired Michigan State defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi.

It wasn’t all bad, right?

Nebraska went 9-4 in 2016, and Riley is widely regarded as a really nice guy, and that counts for something even if it didn’t help him keep his job.