Mike Riley

Oregon State coach Mike Riley cheers up his team before a game against Arizona in 2012. At 61, Riley takes over the Nebraska coaching job one year older than Tom Osborne was when he retired from it.

Harvey Perlman nudged Nebraska's new football coach when Shawn Eichorst was asked Friday about hiring someone who was probably a couple of years from retirement.

"Bet you didn't know that," the UNL chancellor quietly joked to Mike Riley.

The coach laughed then, and again off to the side when a lighthearted comment was made about him taking the Nebraska job at age 61.

"It's always surprising when somebody says I'm 61, because it doesn't quite connect with me," Riley said.

Here's where it's worth reminding that Bill Snyder is 75, Steve Spurrier is 69, Nick Saban is 63, Internet rumor favorite Jim Tressel is 62.

While it's true Riley takes over the Husker coaching job one year older than Tom Osborne was when he retired from it in 1997, the former Oregon State head coach's experience, which includes leading NFL and CFL teams, is also a major part of his draw.

While coordinators like Oregon's Scott Frost, Ohio State's Tom Herman, Michigan State's Pat Narduzzi and Alabama's Kirby Smart were names you heard thrown to the wind by media and fans during NU's coaching search, there is something to be said for hiring someone who has sat in the captain's chair before.

It is another change-up from 2007, when Bo Pelini was hired at Nebraska without head coaching experience.

Did Eichorst want someone with that head coaching background all along? Not necessarily, according to the Husker athletic director's comments Friday. He didn't want to box himself in.

But clearly such experience — Riley was in charge of Oregon State's program for 14 years — counted for something.

"I think you guys have heard me say this before: They come in all shapes and sizes. It's fire and brimstone, it's relaxed, it's in the middle," Eichorst said. "We've seen coaches in this business be really successful coming from all different areas.

"I was just looking at the big picture, not really thinking too much about that. Although, I think at a place like Nebraska, with all its great tradition and history and resources, experience matters."

Eichorst's hiring history shows those two words, "experience matters," aren't just talk.

In 2011, having just arrived as the athletic director at Miami in Florida, he pulled the trigger on hiring another 61-year-old coach in a high-profile sport: men's basketball coach Jim Larranaga.

"He's going to be coaching for a long time, I can tell you that," Eichorst said of Larranaga.

And of Riley: "This is the son of a football coach. This is what he does. He's not looking to retire. He's going to coach his butt off as long as he can. When we were talking I could sense in his voice, 'What a great opportunity to come to a great place like Nebraska. …' I could just sense excitement and inspiration. I never really get caught up in the age thing and that sort of stuff. I don't think that matters at the end of the day."

Eichorst was South Carolina's senior associate athletic director when the Gamecocks hired Spurrier. He was 60 at the time.

"Look at him. He's still rolling," Eichorst said. "Last time I looked, he had, like, three 11-win seasons in a row."

For Riley, taking this job had to be about feel. He'd never even been to Memorial Stadium until Thursday night.

"It was an opportunity to try something one more time," Riley said.

On Saturday, Riley posted a Twitter message on his account, which more than doubled its followers in 48 hours, thanking Husker fans for their warm welcome.

How'd he finish his message? Now it's time to get to work!

Forget the age. Forget how nice everybody says he is. Riley is also plenty hungry to win big, his boss is sure.

"Mike and I go about our business somewhat similar," Eichorst said. "But don't for a second think that we're not competitive. This guy right here is as competitive as anybody I've talked to. Nobody wants to win more than we do, but there's a way you go about doing that."

​Reach the writer at 402-473-7439 or bchristopherson@journalstar.com. On Twitter @HuskerExtraBC.


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