Stryker: With Riley out, Bill Moos Party seeks unifying candidate
There’s too much political discord in the nation. I’m speaking of Husker Nation, of course, where pro- and anti-Pelini and pro- and anti-Riley factions have been at each other’s throats for a decade. The discord is largely the result of poor decisions made at a high level, resulting in a proud football program underperforming since 2001.
This binary, two-party bickering has been going on far too long. It’s time to consider an alternative.
Since I think one of my heroes, Theodore Roosevelt, would approve, I am ready to join the Bill Moos Party, and I urge you to consider doing the same.
Moos has displayed an uncommon blend of wit, wisdom and confidence since taking over as athletic director a month ago. Those traits have been largely absent from Memorial Stadium since Tom Osborne retired. But Osborne, one of the finest coaches who ever lived, had trouble picking winners when he hired other coaches. We’ll know within a year if Moos has a better feel for it, because his firing of Mike Riley Saturday has brought the former Oregon and Washington State AD to the defining moment of what has been a long and rather distinguished career.
His decision to fire Riley was absolutely correct, at least to anyone who thinks a team’s win-loss record is more important than its passing yardage. But the firing of a Nebraska football coach is not a time for celebration. For one thing, it has happened with distressing frequency this century. For another, Riley is basically an honorable man who built strong relationships with players past and present, and paid homage to Nebraska football traditions. He showed you can indeed get top-level talent to take a serious look at Nebraska. If retained and given all the time his supporters thought he deserved, Riley may indeed have signed several four- and five-star players in the next two recruiting cycles, but he wasn’t going to coach them into West Division champions. Overall, Riley’s wrongheaded insistence on moving Nebraska away from its roots —his preference for a finesse-style offense and his inability to produce teams that could block and tackle well — was misguided at best and had the program headed in the wrong direction.
I would say that Riley was strong on character but weak on competence, except that a disturbing rise in player indifference was becoming evident. If Riley couldn’t get all his juniors and seniors to play hard and lead underclassmen to do the same, that indicates a significant character problem in Riley’s program.
One good decision down, another to go, and the next one is pivotal. A convergence of events has handed Moos the opportunity to re-establish the identity of the Nebraska football program for a new generation. Or in Moos’s own words, “Nebraska needs to get back to being Nebraska.”
Moos is a former offensive tackle who spent part of his life as a wheat farmer and beef rancher in eastern Washington. NU president Hank Bounds and chancellor Ronnie Green were right when they said Nebraskans will identify with him, especially if he brings in a coach whose team they can identify with again.
In his press conference Saturday, Moos emphasized the importance of running the ball and stopping the run. How refreshing! That in itself is enough to get my vote. But Moos doesn’t just verbalize politically-correct platitudes. He gives details and reveals sound logic behind his thinking. He said three years is generally enough time to measure progress in a coaching staff. He said he’s had “third-party people” contacting agents, and that he’s identified six coaches on his short list. When asked about specific names, he didn’t shy away. He spoke openly about Scott Frost. He mentioned Dan Mullen, Kevin Sumlin and Chris Peterson. He said he’s prepared to spend the money needed to get the right coach.
I am more than ready for the return of sound judgment, capable decision-making and dual-threat quarterbacks to Lincoln. If those quarterbacks are better passers than runners, so much the better (Moos said he likes balanced offenses). There’s plenty of room for interpretation there, which rightfully belongs to the new head coach and his assistants. As TR would say, I was “dee-lighted” by Moos’ emphasis on “getting the Blackshirts back to being the Blackshirts.”
Moos has a chance to restore the Nebraska brand, a bue-collar, physical running game with an aggressive Blackshirt defense that forces turnovers, all while maintaining high standards in the classroom and community. If that happens, the Sea of Red will continue to pour into Memorial Stadium.
There is plenty of talent already on the team, but some of the players are not in a good place mentally and emotionally. In that way, the new coach will walk into a situation similar to the one Bob Devaney inherited when he arrived in 1962, except the Husker slump was longer and much more severe in Devaney’s case.
Recruiting and developing the right players for Nebraska is also a consideration. The recruiting has been adequate; the development has not.
It’s important to continue to be active in social media, as Riley’s football operations department was, but it’s vital to develop players who are more interested in football than social media. There were a lot of disinterested-looking players on the field this season giving less than 100 percent in practice and during games. TR, a lifelong proponent of vigorous physical exertion and passionate effort, would have called them “mollycoddles.” That mindset has to be forcefully eradicated. Accepting a football scholarship at Nebraska has to translate into doing your best on every drill, in every scrimmage, on every play come Saturday. A noticeable number of Husker players have not bought into that notion. I think that’s why we so often hear noise from former Huskers, especially Blackshirts.
The coach Moos selects will have to confront that culture head-on. He’ll have the support of his boss, who made this insightful comment Saturday:
“I notice little things. Observing and assessing isn’t what we are doing on third-and-3 inside the 20, but about what’s going on day-to-day and all of that. There are a lot of good things, but there were some disturbing things in regards to morale and discipline.” In other words, the malcontents and mollycoddles on the team are on notice.
The man is balanced in his outlook. You can tell he recognizes the importance of fans and listens to their ideas, but judging by his past dealings with Nike icon Phil Knight, he won’t be held hostage by big-money boosters. In his own way, he appears to be an independent, trust-busting leader in the mold of our 26th president.
On the day Moos was announced as the Huskers’ new AD, Chancellor Ronnie Green said he “has exhibited a combination of passion, wisdom and an ability to bring people together in pursuit of a common goal.” The next 12 months will test the truth of that statement. Moos is a plain-speaking cuss who can charm a crowd with well-timed comments about Runzas and the SEC eating its young, but he can do it without breaking confidences or putting his foot in his mouth.
The people who produced the “Welcome to Lincoln: A Pac-12 Retirement Community” t-shirts were premature. This 66-year-old Moos has a lot of life left in him.
A longtime Husker fan, sportswriter and history buff, Tad Stryker started writing for this website in 2008. You can email him at [email protected]