Once, Mike Riley was going to be a short-timer in the Pac-12. Now he’s the dean and the rest of the coaches in the Pac-12 are so many pledge brothers.
Think about this: As the 2014 football season begins, Riley has 13 years of experience at Oregon State. Combined, the other 11 coaches have 18 years at their current schools (allowing three years in the Pac-12 for Utah’s Kyle Whittingham).
Put another way, at the Pac-12 media day in 2009 — when commissioner Larry Scott was just taking over — every one of Riley’s counterparts was different, or at least at a different school.
“Mike’s kind of the godfather,” says Stanford coach David Shaw. “He’s the one we always volunteer for anything that comes up — to the AFCA (American Football Coaches Association), to the commissioner, to the NCAA — about things where we have an issue. He’s a phenomenal spokesman for college football but for us in particular.”
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It’s testament to the staying power of Riley, who left OSU in 1998 for a failed tenure with the San Diego Chargers, that some unlikely things have come full-circle. At OSU, football was the program synonymous with record futility. Relatively speaking, basketball had only begun to struggle. Times change.
Once, Riley was associated with a steady run of excellent rushers in a balanced offense. Now, he has seen OSU’s reputation as a fount of running backs go dry, and that’s a trend whose progress will be telling about the ‘14 Beavers. Last year, OSU went all-in for the wonders of Sean Mannion’s passing. Today, Riley will say it went too whole-hog.
“I actually became a little bit of a victim of it myself early,” he says. “We were so good throwing the ball for six games. It was pretty incredible. I probably threw more early than I should have (rather than) develop that running game into what it could have been.
“His (Mannion’s) touchdown-interception ratio was crazy-good, his yardage was leading the nation, so you get spoiled.”
So the guy who either recruited or coached Ken Simonton, Steven Jackson, Yvenson Bernard and Jacquizz Rodgers went another season with a lukewarm run game. It’s now been five seasons since OSU averaged 4 yards per rush.
Riley doesn’t want it this way, and he expressed optimism the other day about an offensive line that’s been dinged up. There are concerns nonetheless.
The best lineman, Isaac Seumalo, had a foot injury in the offseason after the OSU bowl win in Hawaii, and was still in a boot recently in fall camp. Seumalo has been ruled out for the opener against Portland State. Linemate Grant Bays has to keep an eye on a nagging back problem.
“We’ve had some terrific runners,” Riley said. “I think our trademark when we’re at our best is balance. It’s what we want to be.”
There’s no worry about Mannion, who is only 1,838 yards from Matt Barkley’s Pac-12 career passing record. Mannion has become even more of a video junkie, learning the nuances of new coordinator John Garrett’s ways, and has worked on a quicker release.
“Whenever he had a chance, I wanted to watch tape with him,” Mannion said. “Just he and I in a meeting room.”
Says Riley, “He belongs in any conversation about quarterbacking in this country.”
Mannion no longer has Brandin Cooks as a target. OSU’s second Biletnikoff Award winner caught 128 balls, a gaping 45 more than anybody else in the league.
“We’re going to need more from a lot of people,” Riley says, “and I think we’re very capable of that.”
OSU should be sassy on defense, with a strong linebacking crew buoyed by the return of Michael Doctor (injured in 2013), Steven Nelson and Ryan Murphy on the back end, and Miami transfer Jalen Grimble helping anchor the line at tackle.
All that, and some changes to the program involving the weight room and nutrition, have the dean energized.
“I’m feeling like a little bit of a rookie again,” says Riley. “I like that. I don’t want to lose that.”
Bud Withers: 206-464-8281 or firstname.lastname@example.org