Mike Riley, wearing a Nebraska cap and jacket, made his way to the front of the room, as if he was to address the media for his regular weekly news conference.
He even greeted reporters as such.
“Welcome everybody,” Riley said. “Thank you for being here.”
A day after Nebraska’s 56-14 home loss to Iowa that ended a 4-8 season, Riley joked he was not prepared to break down the game as he normally does in these settings.
“I came in to watch film,” he said, “but I got interrupted.”
Some light, uncomfortable laughter followed, for this was not any regular Saturday afternoon at Memorial Stadium.
Riley, in a rather unorthodox move, chose to speak to reporters at the very news conference to announce he’s no longer the head football coach at Nebraska. It was reminiscent of when Doc Sadler addressed the media after his dismissal as men’s basketball coach in 2012.
“I’m going to remain and believe in remaining thankful,” Riley said. “This is an awesome place. Dee (his wife) and I have enjoyed it a ton.”
Yet Riley admitted Nebraska didn’t win enough games in his three seasons, and he accepted his fate. This was merely him putting on a clinic on how to accept defeat with grace and dignity.
Nebraska Director of Athletics Bill Moos informed Riley and his staff on Saturday morning that Riley wouldn’t be retained after going 19-19 in three seasons. Moos explained his decision to the football team, and Riley had an opportunity to meet with his players, too, and say goodbye.
The handling of a difficult situation couldn’t have been more professional. Everyone had a chance for closure, and everyone, by all accounts, handled it with class.
“I had five weeks to observe and assess the Nebraska football program,” Moos said, “and in that time, we went 1-4 and had three blowout losses, and I didn’t feel the program was progressing like I hoped it would.”
Nebraska (4-8, 3-6 Big Ten Conference) ended the season with four straight home losses, the longest such in-season streak since 1961. Not only that, opponents scored more than 50 points against the Huskers in three straight games to close the season.
The first game in that streak, a 54-21 loss at Minnesota on Nov. 11, Moos said, was the turning point in his decision to make a change. He also said a fractured and fragile fan base served as a significant influence.
Moos, hired in October from Washington State, said Nebraska has the necessary resources, facilities, infrastructure and fan support to attract top candidates. He said he began his coaching search with six such people on his list.
“I’m going to find a real good fit for our next football coach,” Moos said.
A testament to his openness and honesty, Moos wasn’t afraid to address the big elephant in the room, either – Scott Frost.
The Nebraska native and former Husker quarterback, who led Nebraska to the 1997 national championship, is regarded as a top candidate on the coaching market after two successful seasons as head coach at Central Florida. Two years removed from an 0-12 season, the Golden Knights are 11-0 heading into next week’s American Athletic Conference championship game against Memphis.
“Scott Frost is a very good football coach,” said Moos, noting he’s centering his search on head coaches with FBS experience. “He’s in the heat of trying to win a conference championship, obviously a Nebraskan, and getting attention from other schools.
“Scott is somebody I am considering … there will be plenty of time to talk to Scott Frost.”
Moos said he’s drawn on acquaintances of people with search firms and gathered their expertise but hasn’t signed a contract with a search firm. It is, however, a way of getting in contact with agents.
Moos gave fans an idea of what he’s looking for in a coach to help lead Nebraska back into contention for Big Ten Conference championships and under the national spotlight. Nebraska hasn’t won a conference title since 1999 and last played in a major bowl game in 2001.
“I think you do need to run the ball; more importantly, I think you need to stop the run,” Moos said. He also likes a dual-threat quarterback who can stretch the defense. “If you have a good one, it’s hard to stop.
“And let’s get the Blackshirts back to being the Blackshirts.”
Moos respectfully said he wouldn’t address any more media questions about the coaching search until his next news conference, when he will announce the next Nebraska football coach — number 30 in this historical program. In the meantime, linebackers coach Trent Bray will serve as interim head coach.