LINCOLN, Neb. — Mike Riley spent his first month as Nebraska’s new football coach assembling his staff, securing pledges from recruits and getting a feel for the personnel he’ll work with this spring.
He also found out on the day he arrived that nearly everybody in Lincoln seemed to know him.
“I always thought I was a relatively unrecognizable guy,” Riley said, with a laugh, at a news conference Thursday.
“I have appreciated the genuine welcoming. We’re still undefeated, so that’s a good thing as you go forward. It has been a nice entry.”
Riley addressed a number of topics with reporters after the news conference, including the difficult decision to let go longtime assistant Ron Brown, an overview of his plans for the offense and defense and the smooth transition from the fired Bo Pelini’s staff to his.
The only holdover from the previous staff is secondary coach Charlton Warren, who has worked at Nebraska for one season after spending the previous nine at Air Force. Riley said Air Force coach Troy Calhoun called to urge him to keep Warren, who has extensive recruiting connections in the South.
“That was easy, after meeting him,” Riley said. “The other thing that made a big impression on me was that [while recruiting] everybody wanted to know what was going to happen with coach Warren. He made a good impression on parents and on recruits, and it doesn’t take too long to know this is a quality person.”
— Mike Riley
Eight of the nine assistant coaching jobs have been filled. Riley said he plans to interview four or five candidates for wide receivers coach.
Brown’s ties to Nebraska date to the late 1980s. He was the receivers coach under Tom Osborne for three national championships in the 1990s, and he continued to work for Osborne’s successor, Frank Solich. Brown was not retained when Bill Callahan was coach from 2004-07, but Pelini hired him back in 2008. He coached running backs this past season.
The new running backs coach is Reggie Davis, who previously worked with Riley.
“There is no doubt coach Brown has had a remarkable career and a great background and is a very good person,” Riley said.
Riley said he and offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf will have to adjust their system to the type of personnel they have at Nebraska. But they’ll continue with the pro-style offense he ran at Oregon State.
There will be multiple personnel groups and formations, a core of four or five running plays and a lot of play-action passes on first and second downs, he said. Riley, who called the plays for most of his 14 years during two stints at Oregon State, will turn that job over to Langsdorf.
Defensively, Riley said, coordinator Mark Banker will use a four-man front that will morph into a three-man on third down.
For three weeks, Riley shared the football office with the Pelini assistants who stayed on to coach the team in the Holiday Bowl, which the Huskers lost 45-42 to Southern California. Riley said he was impressed with how the Pelini assistants handled it.
“Because of those guys, I didn’t feel awkward at all,” he said. “I’d come through the halls and talk to them when they were available. I found them engaging and nice, and I appreciated that. It could have been awkward, but I never felt that. And I think it’s a credit to who they are.
“We talked a little football, a little SC, the players, their plan for the game. I thought considering the weird situation, it was pretty light.”
Riley said he hasn’t spoken with Pelini, who was hired as Youngstown State’s coach three weeks ago.
“I would like to have done that,” Riley said. “I’m not sure I’ll call him now, but I would have liked to have talked to him. It’s good to get more information about what you’re heading into.”