LINCOLN, Neb. — Nebraska coach Mike Riley wasn’t sure what his players knew when they reported for practice Thursday. When they met at 2:15 p.m., he decided to approach the situation as if no one had heard any of the news.
After telling his players that athletic director Shawn Eichorst had been fired earlier in the day, Riley also made sure to tell them a little bit about his former boss. He told them about the programs he built and his vision for Nebraska, and also shared what Eichorst meant to him personally.
“I just told them that for me, I’m just thankful he brought me here so I can coach you guys,” Riley said after practice. “There’s lots of good that has come of all that.”
As for the future, Riley plans for business to continue as usual. A big part of that has to do with his experience with these types of things.
“I’ve been through both the good times and the hard times in our business,” Riley said. “We only know one way to do it. We’re going to first think of our players and coaching them. We have a great opportunity to do that every day. If your energy goes in a good place, then you can feel good about doing good work and we will continue to do that as well as we will in the recruiting aspect of it.
“We’re just going to continue to do our job and build this team to the highest level that we can daily so that we can do better on the weekends. We need to have better weekends. I feel really confident in that.”
Riley also referenced a specific example to fall back on. Riley’s first shot at the head coach position came with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in 1987. He inherited “a great team and we were great,” as Riley put it. However, his general manager retired at the end of that season and things weren’t the same after.
The Blue Bombers finished 9-9 in 1988 and then 7-11 in 1989.
“We didn’t win the Grey Cup [in 1987] but we had a great team, but then that darn guy retired and it wasn’t the same right away,” Riley said. “We at one point [in 1989] lost 7 in a row and I thought, ‘Man, I’m not going to keep my job.’ I was a second year head coach, but I did and the rest of the story is pretty good.”
In 1990, Riley and the Blue Bombers turned it around to go 12-6 to finish the season. He then left for the San Antonio Riders of the World League.
Fast forward 30 years and Riley still holds on to those lessons. He knows there are going to be plenty opinions about him and his staff, as well as his team. He doesn’t mind.
“There are those times and what we’ve always known to do when it’s hard is don’t treat people any differently, don’t make up things. Just coach,” Riley said. “That’s what we’re doing. I’ve got a great group of guys that are doing that. I think we have a really good strong relationships with our players and all the people around the football here. That’s what we’ll do and when you approach it that way, it’s not that hard.
“Whatever is swirling out there, it always swirls one way or another and you have to maintain being steady because that’s what your kids need to know who you’re going to be every day. That’s how we’ll do it.”
As for Riley’s future with Nebraska, he knows it’s not ultimately his decision to make. For that reason, he plans to keep his focus on coaching the team he has and recruiting for the future. He’s pleased with both as they stand now, and that hasn’t changed in one afternoon.
Plus, he has a vision. And that vision starts with him and his staff.
“I guess perspective is one thing that is good and a drive to always be good,” Riley said. “We have driven people here that have wanted to coach these guys at the highest level and do better and we have players like that. It’s not that complicated to me.
“It’s clear where we have to go on the football field, it’s clear what we have to do recruiting to get to that point where we can get where we want to go.”
With that, the beat goes on and Riley plans to keep doing what he’s doing. For better or for worse.
“It’s going to be perceived in a million different ways and I don’t have control over that,” Riley said. “I think the first most important thing for me is to address our coaching staff and our players and then get our players ready to play Saturday so we can have a … You know, this is supposed to be fun. I want to get them ready to play and it’s only fun I’ve found when you win.
“We’re trying every way we can to do that.”