Oregon State head coach Mike Riley is easily the most normal-guy college football head coach around. The only real challenger for the title is his counterpart at Oregon, Mark Helfrich. Helfrich is in his second year as head man and appears bound for the first-ever CFB Playoff, whereas Riley’s season ended Saturday night with a 28-point loss to those Ducks.
It shouldn’t be like this for Riley. The Corvallis native is the longest-tenured coach in the Pac-12 and has 14 years total as OSU’s head man. He only left for the NFL when the San Diego Chargers made him an offer he couldn’t refuse. But he was stuck with Ryan Leaf for a QB and that, well, you know about Ryan Leaf. When the opportunity opened for Riley to come back, he pretty much said yes and then began negotiating a contract. That was 2003.
People who don’t know better question Riley’s job security when Oregon State finishes under .500. It’s happening right now after a 5-7, 2-7 season.
These people are stupid.
Riley is the best thing that’s ever happened to Oregon State football. He knows it, the OSU athletic department knows it and anyone who’s ever been to Reser Stadium — even for practice — knows it. Riley’s contract extends every time he gets at least six wins. Right now he’s up through 2021, when he’ll be 68. The only way he won’t get there is if it’s his choice.
OSU can’t fight Oregon with fire. The Beavs can’t be as flashy as Oregon, and with Riley as the face of the program OSU won’t go that way. What Riley offers and will continue to offer is a chance to play at the next level, and ultimately that’s all any college football player wants. For a team that hasn’t been in a serious national championship hunt in a decade, OSU puts an outrageous number of players in the NFL. Complain all you want about Derek Anderson (Carolina Panthers) and Matt Moore (Miami Dolphins) as NFL QBs, but those are two OSU alums still in the league. So are really good players like Brandin Cooks (New Orleans Saints), Markus Wheaton (Pittsburgh Steelers) and Stephen Paea (Chicago Bears). They all made it because of playing for Riley at OSU.
The following story is what you need to know about how well Riley is respected in the NFL. Strong safety Brandon Hardin missed pretty much all of the 2011 college season due to injury, and the Beavs went 3-9. The Bears still took him in the third round of the 2012 draft and signed him to a four-year deal. This story doesn’t end in the Pro Bowl — Hardin got hurt again and was among the last cuts at the end of camp. But the fact that Hardin even got that chance is a tribute to Riley.
I’ve been to many an Oregon State football practice, and I’ve seen Riley at work. At the end of practice the first person Riley goes over and hugs is his granddaughter, and he goes from being the coach to grandpa in about four seconds. It’s an amazing sight to see.
Riley constantly sees guys from his program get the opportunity to achieve amazing things in the NFL. Yet OSU hasn’t been to a bowl game in three of the last five years. Riley has everything in the world except a winning football team, and that’s the one thing he works harder to achieve than anything else. I don’t have an answer, but I do know that even Helfrich will say that Riley deserves better than this.