Mike Riley is the head football coach for the Nebraska Cornhuskers and in the past nine weeks has led Nebraska to a paltry 3 wins and a humiliating 6 losses.
In the industry, he’s known among his peers as one of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet, but he’s also known as “Mediocre Mike” because he just can’t seem to win very many games.
However, that “nice guy” persona has it’s down side because he comes across as a man who never wants to hurt anyone’s feelings and at times, it almost appears that he loses a close game on purpose just so the other team doesn’t walk away feeling blue.
With that being said, I have created a few choice comments that were expected but were missing from Mike Riley press conferences over the past couple of months…
Loss – BYU 33 – 28 (BYU wins on desperation hail mary in closing seconds and gives Nebraska first home opener loss in over 34 years.)
“Well, you know, we kind of told our players to be out of position on purpose because Bronco (Mendenhall) is a good friend of mine and when his starting quarterback went down, I just… well … I just felt for the guy and really wanted he and his team to have an opportunity to feel better about themselves. I think this gives them a lot of momentum moving forward, and I hope they have a safe plane ride back home to Utah.”
Won – South Alabama 48 – 9
” I played for Alabama, so this was a tough win beating a team from a state that I have so much respect and admiration for. I just really feel for those kids from Alabama right now.
“If we ever play them again, I’ll make sure we let them compete and the score isn’t so lopsided or that it’s not by such a large margin because that’s just not very kind and … well … it’s really heartbreaking.
“That’s going to be a long plane ride home for those kids and that staff. I just hope they know how sorry I am for making them feel so bad.”
Loss – Miami 36 – 33 (After trailing by 23 points to Miami, Nebraska attempted a fourth quarter come back that fell short in Overtime with a Miami interception in the end zone.)
“Heck of a game. Heck of a game … I had never met Al Golden before today, and during the pre-game warm-ups he and I had a chance to talk a bit. Long story short, he told me that there was a push to get him fired and then pointed up to a plane flying overhead with a banner that read, “fire Al Golden”. I just saw that hurt in his eyes and knew at that moment I had to help him out.
“I really felt for the guy because I know what it’s like being in the hot seat as a head coach and … well … We both agreed at that moment that it was best he not lose this game. I just really wanted to take some pressure off of him, and I think we did that by letting them win this game.”
Win – Southern Mississippi 36 – 28 (Nebraska had a fend off a fourth quarter rally by Southern Miss to win the game.)
(Approaches microphone and greets the crowd with a big smile).
“Fun game, huh? You know, I felt pretty bad after the South Alabama game because I know what it’s like to get blown out by a superior team, and a loss like that just leaves you feeling empty inside. It’s a long plane ride home after being blown out, so knowing how tough it is to move forward after a loss like that … well … I just didn’t want it to end that way for Southern Miss.
“Trust me, I know the horrible feelings a coaching staff and the players can have after a blow out because I’ve experienced quite a few in my day. I really don’t want anyone to experience those feelings because they really are difficult to overcome. (shakes head)
“After the South Alabama game I made it clear to this coaching staff that we would never … Never … blow anyone out like that ever again, so we made it a point to have our defense play a lot of soft coverage in the fourth quarter to give the Southern Miss offense a chance to shine. I think they played well, don’t you?”
Loss – Illinois 14 – 13 (Nebraska once again fails to close out the game in the closing minutes and Illinois wins the game on a last second touchdown.)
“Well… I, uh … (shakes head). Ummm…we competed out there for four quarters against a very talented football team. Illinois really lived up to their namesake (Fighting Illini) today and made it a great game. They have a some really good football players on this team and I have to give their coaching staff and those players a lot of credit for hanging in there and battling through to the end. They never gave up and that’s a symbol of great leadership on their part.
After dealing with everything they have had to deal with in the off-season, (head coach was fired for mistreatment of players), I really hope this win shows the Illinois administration that they should remove the interim label and give that coaching staff the full-time label.
(Pauses for a moment to gather his thoughts) That’s a really great coaching staff. They really deserved this win.”
Loss – Wisconsin 23 – 21 (Wisconsin kicks a field goal in the closing minute to win the game giving Nebraska it’s fourth loss before November for the first time since 1960).
“Paul (Chryst) is a good friend of mine and when that Wisconsin kicker missed that field goal with about 4 minutes remaining, I just felt horrible for the guy.
“For the remainder of the game I just couldn’t shake the thought that my friend (Paul Chryst) had done such a great job getting his kids prepared for this game and to have it end with a missed field goal … well … that just didn’t seem right to me; so we ran a couple plays we knew wouldn’t work and punted the ball back to them so they’d have a chance to maybe .. you know … kick that field goal again.
(Smiles and nods head in approval) that was really great. Really great. I’m just so happy for them, and I hope they remember this next time we play them. Maybe they’ll return the favor.”
Win – Minnesota 48 – 25
“I’m really proud of our guys. After talking with Paul (Chryst) during last week’s visit, he told me that if we beat anyone in this league, Minnesota, was the team to beat; so we put a lot of extra preparation into this game and we’re really proud of our guys for coming through the way they did. I hope I made Paul (Chryst) proud of me today.”
Loss – Northwestern 30 – 28 (Northwestern sealed the win by eating up the final 5 minutes of the play clock. Nebraska’s defense was exhausted for some reason, even though they hadn’t been on the field for longer than 15 minutes through three quarters.)
“Northwestern really deserved to win this game. They played with a lot of passion out there today. One of the assistants told me at the beginning of the fourth quarter that Northwestern’s defense had been on the field for more than 35 minutes and we were wearing them down. I just really felt horrible for doing that to those young men and realized that something needed to change.
“You know, they flew here from Illinois and that can be a long trip… it’s like an hour or something, so to come all this way and then get beat. That’s not a very hospitable thing for us as a host to do, so I made the coaches and players understand that if possible, we would let Northwestern leave Lincoln with a ‘W’.
“They really played hard out there today. They deserved this win and I hope they can build off this going forward.”
Loss – Purdue 55 – 45 (Coming into this game Purdue was at the bottom of the Big Ten and had not won more than two Big Ten conference games in two years. They had the worst offensive production of any Big Ten team and couldn’t stop anyone defensively. Yet, for four straight quarters Mike Riley and Nebraska found a way to make Purdue look like the best team in college football.)
“Wow. Let me begin by saying how proud I am of Jerry Kill and had I known he was having health issues, that Minnesota game would’ve had a different outcome. I really hope he gets well and can get back in the game. Great man…great coach. I wish him all the best.
As for today, I’m really impressed with our players and how they battled through adversity today, but leading up to our preparation I read that Coach Hazell was getting a lot of bad press and that just didn’t sit well with me.
“All week I just couldn’t stop thinking about what he might be going through. I mean, he has a family and his coaching staff has families. It just tore me up all week that he might lose his job, and I really couldn’t let that happen.
“Those kids he recruited, that team we played…they have a lot of heart, and I wanted the world to see just how talented that team really is, so we kind of backed off defensively and let them score some points. It seemed to boost their confidence and they really appeared to have a good time out there so we didn’t try to stop them. We just let them play.
“That’s a great bunch of kids. Great bunch of kids. I think they had a lot of fun out there today.”
Win – Michigan State 39 – 38 (Coming into the game Michigan State was undefeated and ranked seventh in the nation. Nebraska played extremely well all game long and in the fourth quarter was able to drive 60+ yards in 40 seconds to win the game on a play where the receiver ran out of bounds and then back in bounds to catch the ball. MSU still had 17 seconds though, and had it not been for an errant throw by the MSU quarterback, Nebraska might have lost this game.)
“What a game. (short pause to gather his thoughts…) I can’t tell you how proud I am of these young men and how hard they have worked all year. They never gave up and really showed their true character out there. This is a great bunch of kids. Great bunch of kids.
(Looking away with a furrowed brow, he pauses for a moment to reflect on the final events of the game…)
Quite honestly…after seeing that replay on the big screen, and knowing that our receiver went out of bounds on his own, I waited for the officials to correct their call after replay and when they didn’t, I really felt compelled to make sure the officials made the right call; however, as I was trying to get the attention of the official to let them know it was okay to reverse that call, one of my assistant coaches pulled me over to talk about the (two-point) conversion and I didn’t get a chance to talk to the official.
“I know how hard Michigan State has worked all year and to have victory snatched away like that is just heart wrenching for those kids. It’s really eating me up inside … (short pause) … this is a tough victory to swallow. (shakes head in disbelief) … You know . . . I have my weekly conference call with the Big Ten commissioner on Wednesday, so I’ll be sure to bring up that call and see if we can get it reversed.
Michigan State, their great fans…the school…the administration…they all deserve that much from us. That’s a great team…great school…great bunch of kids.“
Being a nice football coach can be pathetic.