Nebraska has lost four of its last five games and dropped to 4-6 on the year with a 54-21 loss at Minnesota on Saturday.
Despite the miserable season and other coaches being shown the door around the country, new Nebraska athletic director Bill Moos told ESPN Monday that head coach Mike Riley “deserves to finish the 2017 season.”
Many Nebraska fans disagree with that sentiment, and something Riley said Monday will only add fuel to the fire.
Riley, who is 19-17 (12-12 Big Ten) in three years with the Huskers, was asked what his message to the fanbase is. With sincerity, Riley reiterated how disappointed he is with the program’s performance while expressing his appreciation for the fanbase’s passion for the team.
But then he dropped this line:
“I love this team. I love their approach every week and we have had very few issues except for the games and I appreciate that.”
Oh boy. You’re, uh, paid to win games, Mike.
Here’s video of the question and answer.
“I am obviously, like I mentioned right off the top, I know everybody, and when I said that players, coaches, fans, everybody is disappointed in what is going on. This place has maintained their passion for their teams and Husker football for a long time and I am certain that they will continue to do that and they should,” Riley said.
“I love this team, I love their approach every week and we have had very few issues except for the games and I appreciate that. The work that they try to do to get ready and the same with the coaches. I am positive the fans will forever love their team.”
A main tenor of the press conference, aside from diagnosing how the heck the Huskers gave up 54 points to Minnesota and how they’re going to stop Penn State, was how to get the team to stay engaged for the last two games. Riley’s point that the team has been working hard consistently is worth noting from a coach’s perspective, but it doesn’t — and shouldn’t — mean much to fans without some results, especially at a proud place like Nebraska.
It’s been a long time since Nebraska won big, and Riley’s team is running out. Moos, who was hired away from Washington State after Shawn Eichorst was fired, said earlier this month he still needed to have an in-depth sit down conversation with Riley, but made it clear he wasn’t a fan of firing coaches during the season.
“Any time you make a coaching change, the transition will bring anxieties and some elements of concern to the existing players,” Moos said on 1620 The Zone in Omaha. “I don’t ever like to dismiss a coach during the season unless there’s a behavioral problem because your team is going to lose its focus. We’ve got to get this season finished on a good note.”
Moos’ comments to ESPN Monday reiterate that sentiment. It also suggests Moos could follow the direction he took at Washington State, where he let Paul Wulff finish out the 2010 season before swooping in and hiring Mike Leach after visiting Leach at his home in Key West, Florida.
Moos said he is more or less conducting coaching searches “year-round.”
“I always want to be ready in case a coach leaves or if I feel there needs to be a change made,” he said. “I stay on top of that all the time and certainly, with the connections and the network I have, if something had to happen, it could happen fairly quickly.”
One coach connected to the Nebraska job is UCF’s Scott Frost, a former Nebraska quarterback. Moos didn’t hesitate to express admiration for the job Frost has done at UCF (the Knights are undefeated this season), and several outlets have suggested that Nebraska would be willing to pay big to land Frost as its next head coach. But Nebraska will have competition for Frost’s services, especially from Florida.
But before the chaos of the coaching carousel really gets going in Lincoln and elsewhere, there’s a season to play out. Nebraska travels to Penn State this weekend before hosting Iowa in the season finale. They’ll need to win both to avoid missing a bowl for the first time since 2007, Bill Callahan’s last season.
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