LINCOLN, Neb. — Athletic director Shawn Eichorst ended his one-man search with the announcement Thursday that the 61-year-old Riley would replace Bo Pelini, who was fired Sunday. Riley will be introduced at a news conference in Lincoln on Friday.
Riley has spent 14 seasons over two tenures at Oregon State, leading the Beavers to 93 wins and a 6-2 record in bowl games.
“It is truly an honor to join the University of Nebraska family,” Riley said in a statement. “Though we love Corvallis and Oregon State, this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to coach at one of the nation’s most storied football programs and I can’t wait to get started.”
Riley’s name never appeared on the radar of college football pundits who speculated about Pelini’s successor. Oregon offensive coordinator Scott Frost, a Nebraska native who quarterbacked the Cornhuskers’ 1997 national championship team, was among candidates believed to be under consideration. It turned out the man Eichorst wanted was 45 miles away from Frost, in Corvallis.
Riley has strong recruiting ties in talent-rich California and a reputation for doing more with less at Oregon State. He employs a pro-style offense and is highly regarded for his development of quarterbacks. He has coached NFL QBs Matt Moore and Derek Anderson, and his starter this season, Sean Mannion, is the Pac-12’s all-time leading passer.
Riley also is known for having a Mr. Nice Guy persona, a contrast to the hot-tempered Pelini.
“There was one coach who fit all the characteristics that I was seeking to lead our tradition-rich football program,” Eichorst said. “Mike Riley has a proven record of success, a sound approach to football and teaching, an understanding of the educational mission of our university and the integrity and values that we cherish at Nebraska. I have no doubt that Mike will assemble a tremendous staff and lead our student-athletes to win Big Ten titles and compete for national championships in the years ahead.”
Pelini was fired last weekend after seven years and a 66-27 overall record that included at least nine wins — and four losses — every season he completed.
Riley is charged with leading the Huskers back to elite status after they were the winningest program in the nation from 1970-1999. Since Tom Osborne retired after winning a third national title in four years in 1997, the Huskers have had three coaches and rank 15th in wins.
Riley will take over immediately but will not coach the Huskers in their bowl game. Nebraska assistant Barney Cotton is interim head coach.
Oregon State finished this season 5-7 overall, 2-7 in the Pac-12, after losing six of its last seven games.
Riley met with his Oregon State players on Thursday to inform them of his decision.
Riley’s move to Nebraska appears to have developed quickly. After his team lost 47-19 to Oregon on Saturday, he talked about the need to make changes that would help the Beavers’ offense be more productive in 2015.
“I have a strong belief I’m the right guy for Oregon State,” Riley said, according to the Portland (Oregon) Tribune.
Riley was under contract with Oregon State through 2021. His contract stipulated that he would gain one additional year every time he went to a bowl game.
Riley was the longest-tenured coach in the Pac-12. He was named Oregon State’s coach in 1997, taking over a program that hadn’t had a winning season since 1970. He left after two seasons to coach the San Diego Chargers, but not before his Beavers knocked off a nationally ranked Oregon in an overtime thriller in the 1998 Civil War game.
Riley returned to Corvallis in 2003 and had winning seasons in eight of the next 12 seasons. His Beavers famously knocked off No. 3 Southern California at home in 2006, No. 2 California on the road in 2007, No. 1 USC at home in 2008 and No. 9 Arizona on the road in 2010.
Riley is a native of Idaho and a graduate of the University of Alabama, where he played for Paul “Bear” Bryant and won three SEC titles and a national championship.