Early Saturday morning, Nebraska Director of Athletics Bill Moos announced the firing of head football coach Mike Riley. The decision came following the end of Riley’s third year at the helm of the program, which resulted in a 4-8 record. Moos held a press conference shortly after to discuss his decision.
Moos first offered a timeline for the events of the day, which he said began with a 9 a.m. meeting with Mike Riley to notify him of his termination. Moos said he met with the assistant coaches at 9:30 a.m. to notify them of his decision and at 10 a.m. he met with the players to let them know that linebackers coach Trent Bray would serve as the team’s interim head coach.
Moos said the decision to fire Riley came after evaluating the program over the course of the five weeks he has held the position as NU’s director of athletics. The Huskers went 1-4 over that period and allowed 50 points or more in three straight games for the first time in school history.
Moos said he was disappointed with the Huskers’ performance against Minnesota, but the final nail in the coffin for Riley was Black Friday’s game against Iowa, when the Huskers allowed 49 unanswered points in the team’s 56-14 loss.
“Yesterday was an illustration of how the season has gone,” Moos said. “We were in there holding our own, but a series of mistakes turned momentum to the opponent, and we never got it back.”
From there, much of what Moos said revolved around the search for a new head coach, and his vision for the program. He said that, starting today, they would work to find the perfect person for the position.
“We have talked about fit,” Moos said. “This is a unique place at Nebraska, and the right fit has to be someone with tremendous morals, a good teacher, good mentor, someone who is competitive and preferably has head coaching experience at major college football.”
Moos said that he considered major college football to be the FBS, and that someone with head coaching experience at a Power Five school would be preferable for Nebraska’s new head coach.
Moos said that, while he hasn’t yet offered the job to anyone, he originally created a list of six prospective coaches who were all great options. Moos didn’t give a specific timeline of the process, and said while he hopes to have someone in place by December’s early signing period, that it wasn’t the most important factor. The early signing period is a new addition to college football this year which lasts from Dec. 20-22.
“The early signing period is a factor, but not to the degree that we should make a bad decision so that we can make sure to sign two players early,” Moos said. “The sky isn’t falling, it’s more important that this is a hire that provides stability, and a true identity to the football program.”
Next, Moos outlined his vision for what the program needs, mentioning things like a dual-threat quarterback, gifted receivers and big tight ends. The main point he emphasized was the necessity for the defense to be able to stop the run.
“Let’s get the Blackshirts back to being the Blackshirts,” Moos said. “We need to get the defense back.”
Moos also said the program needs to get back to a competitive place in the Big Ten Conference. He highlighted Michigan and Penn State as teams which turned their respective programs around, and he said Nebraska needs to do the same.
“Nebraska needs to get back to just being Nebraska,” Moos said.
Many Husker fans have been clamoring for former Nebraska player and current University of Central Florida coach Scott Frost to be offered the job. Moos said he was well-aware of those wishes and, while he did confirm he was considering Frost for the head coaching job, he also noted the importance of letting Frost finish his current season at UCF. Moos said there would be plenty of time to talk with Frost after the season.
“Scott Frost, and I said this to the media, is a very good football coach. He’s in the heat of trying to win a conference championship,” Moos said. “Scott [Frost] is someone that I am considering, but I am being very sensitive of the fact that he is still coaching a team. But I’ve never said that I was going after Scott Frost. A lot of Nebraskans have said I am."
Moos also said he continues to appreciate the fan base for the program and said he takes note of their concerns and growing frustration.
“Our storied fanbase is fractured and fragile, and that is very concerning to me,” he said. “These fans have been through a lot over the last 20 years.”
Despite the growing apathy from the fans that has been forced into the limelight this year, Moos said he’s thankful for their continued support.
“Since 1962, to have filled this stadium is very, very special,” he said. “I know they’re discouraged, and I take it very [seriously] that I care about them and the product they are going to see on the field. I never want to see the stadium empty in the third quarter again.”
At the conclusion of Moos’ press conference, he announced former head coach Mike Riley would take the podium to make a brief statement and address the Nebraska media for the final time.
Riley took the podium and began by expressing his gratitude for the opportunity and the people he met along the way.
“I want to say that a lot of feelings and emotions,” Riley said. “A lot of disappointment, but I’m going to remain thankful. This is an awesome place, and I have enjoyed it a ton.”
He said that his final meeting with the players this morning was emotional.
“I told them that as I’ve gotten older in this thing, that the thing that I’ve appreciated in this thing… Is the relationship with the players,” Riley said. “And the realization that somewhere in the career that this thing is bigger than football. That our opportunity with these young men is special, at a special time in their life.”
Riley was widely-respected for his efforts to build a deep relationship with the members of the Nebraska football community. He mentioned that he had sincerely enjoyed those relationships he built during his time at Nebraska.
“The thing that I’ll miss are the players I’ve been with, the coach staff I’ve been with,” Riley said. “The life we’ve had in the community.”
That community was one which stuck by Riley and the Huskers through clearly difficult times. Riley said while he was disappointed by the end result of his tenure at Nebraska, he enjoyed the highs and lows he experienced as the Huskers’ head football coach.
“I learned that this is a special place,” Riley said. “You know I was kind of told that. And I think the opportunity to be here was like that old song, I could have missed the pain, but I would have missed the dance. And I loved it. I loved the opportunity to coach here.”
When Riley took the job back in 2014, he said he was looking at it as his next great adventure. Though it did not end in the way he hoped, he said he did not regret it in the least.
“We’re not going to look back on this in any way except that we are glad that we took the opportunity,” Riley said.