Oh, yeah, you bet Danny Langsdorf knows when Mike Riley gets mad. Oh, yeah, nice guys can bring the heat too.
“Oh, yeah,” says the new Husker offensive coordinator. “A little more focused eyes, a little more intensity. Mike has such a great reputation throughout all of coaching for being the nicest guy in coaching. That’s what everybody sees. What you don’t see is how competitive he is, how important it is, how intense he really is. He is not a yeller and a screamer, and a guy that is going to swear up and down, but he’s going to be very detailed and focused on what he wants. He does get mad, I will say that.
"He’s not soft, I’ll tell you that.”
What do you get when you mix a nice guy who runs a family atmosphere with super-competitive fuel? You get the kind of head coach assistants want to be around, the kind of head coach they’ll follow to the heart of the country without second thought.
When Ryan Gunderson, Nebraska’s new director of player personnel, was asked by Riley to move from Oregon State to Lincoln, Gunderson told the coach he needed to think about it.
It took a walk to the nearest coffee stand for him to decide: Yes, of course, he’d join Riley.
When defensive coordinator Mark Banker was asked by Riley: ‘What do you think about coming to Nebraska?’ Yes, of course.
And when Langsdorf, who was Riley’s offensive coordinator at Oregon State from 2005-2013, was asked about leaving a job as the New York Giants' quarterbacks coach to come to Lincoln? Yes, of course.
“He’s an outstanding communicator. I think everybody knows exactly what’s going on. There’s no hidden agendas, there’s no big egos,” Langsdorf says. “I think all that stuff is what draws all of us to working for Mike.”
Look at Riley’s new Husker coaching staff and you’ll see assistants who've worked with him before and wanted to do so again: Langsdorf, Banker, Trent Bray, Bruce Read, Mike Cavanaugh, Reggie Davis.
Sure, in some cases, there was the need for that next job. There was also the allure of Nebraska. “We know what’s here,” Banker says. “We’re the only show in town.” But speak with each of those individuals and you’ll find Riley's draw was just as significant.
He was just as much a draw for those who haven’t worked with him previously.
Before Andy Vaughn took the job as NU’s director of football and recruiting operations, he was working at the University of Nevada, and Middle Tennessee State before that. He’d interviewed for a job on Riley’s staff a few years back but hadn’t been picked. There were no hard feelings.
Vaughn still kept close with Gunderson and others on Riley’s support staff. Some people badmouth their boss when he’s out of earshot. Vaughn never heard such talk about Riley.
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“Everyone always talked about how if you have a chance to work for that guy, you have to take it, he’s one of the best guys in the business,” Vaughn says. “There’s nobody better, just as far as family atmosphere, which is important to me, and being good to his guys that work for him. ... I’ve worked for a couple different guys. I’ve seen all kinds of personality types across the spectrum — the good and the bad. But everybody just kept saying great things about him.”
Vaughn got a sense of the value Riley places on family last month when the coach was trying to lure him — and just as importantly, his family — to Nebraska.
Riley called Vaughn’s wife with a sales pitch. Then the wife of Dan Van De Riet, NU’s associate athletic director for football operations, called Vaughn’s wife to give her input.
“We recruited Andy,” Gunderson said. “We pulled out all the stops.”
It was family recruiting to make the family bigger.
And after Riley adds to that family, Gunderson says the coach shows faith in that person that they can do the job.
“I think he trusts us. He trusts the people that he hires. He’s not a micro-manager by any means. He’ll give you direction. … He wants to know what’s going on, but he’s not, ‘What have you done today? Give me your schedule.’”
Vaughn also has already found that Riley isn’t scared to do what other people aren’t doing.
“That’s the biggest thing, and it’s a fun thing here, is he’s open to stuff,” Vaughn said. “He wants us to try new things. He’s not scared of those things.”
Banker has known Riley since 1996, when they were both on the USC staff — Riley the offensive coordinator, and Banker as, in his own words, “a glorified GA.” They shared a conversation in a hotel room the night USC beat Notre Dame. A relationship was sparked.
From then on, wherever Riley coached, Banker was on his staff. Banker had opportunities to take other jobs, but Riley had a consistency and genuine approach that Banker found other head coaches had trouble matching.
There’s never doubt who the head man is, but Banker says Riley always makes everyone in the program feel as if they have a stake in it.
“The guy you see at the press conference is what you're going to see down on the field, that the players will see in the meeting room, in the private moments when we'll go over to his house for a barbeque,” Banker says. "And he's always included everybody. He's not the one pounding his chest all the time. He's not the one in the crow's nest or out in the golf cart. He's the head coach and he's in there coaching every down, every play.”