Mike Riley

Nebraska head coach Mike Riley addresses the media before introducing his new assistant coaches on Thursday, Jan. 8, 2015, in West Stadium.

It was quite a shindig Thursday at Memorial Stadium, a meet-and-greet with Mike Riley's new full-time assistant coaches.

Meanwhile, we learned more about the head man.

You hear little-to-no hesitation in his answers.

His friendly nature tends to overshadow a quiet sense of confidence.

Riley, who has been Nebraska's head football coach for a month, spelled out (on a cursory level) what we can expect on both offense and defense. More on that in a second.

He made it clear what he seeks in assistant coaches (he has one full-time spot left to fill). In a nutshell: familiarity, trust and expertise over flash and splash. It always strikes me odd to hear criticism for such an approach.

The speculation earlier this month about Ed Orgeron and Kevin Steele perhaps joining Riley's staff felt, well, a bit forced. Like folks were trying to force the hires on the new guy.

Riley has a very firm grip on what he wants, or so it seems.

"Hiring is tough," Riley said. "Interviews are tough. To just say, 'Because of an interview, I'm going to hire you.' … There are too many things that go into it. So when I have a known (entity), I go with it."

Secondary coach Charlton Warren is the aberration in this case, the only full-time assistant hired from Bo Pelini's staff.

You could tell Riley was genuinely empathetic to the fate of the previous staff. Riley knows the awful feeling of being fired. He praised Ron Brown, who won't be part of the new staff. In fact, Riley praised the entire previous staff.

As for his hires, Riley said defensive coordinator Mark Banker was an easy choice — I'm guessing the easiest. He's worked with Riley for a total of 18 years, during which time Banker's been a frequent lightning rod for fan discontent, especially regarding Oregon State's seven-game Civil War skid.

As for offense, Riley has for most of his career called plays. But he said Danny Langsdorf, his 42-year-old offensive coordinator, likely will handle those duties in 2015.

"I'm big in the game-planning," Riley said. "I'll meet with Danny about my ideas for the game. I'll meet with the offensive staff. And I'll meet with (special teams coordinator) Bruce Read, too. Mark Banker pretty much has autonomy on defense. I'll throw in whatever two cents I have.

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"Sometimes I'll get in the way, and sometimes I'll have an idea. Most of my energy is placed on helping Danny and the offensive staff put together the game plan."

Having a full-time special-teams coordinator is a rare-but-wise approach. Riley said Read is particularly adept at coaching specialists — kickers, punters, snappers and return men.

With an assistant devoted to special teams, it means another assistant has to pick up slack. To that end, Langsdorf will oversee tight ends as well as quarterbacks, with help from a graduate assistant on the tight ends. Langsdorf seemingly has a lot on his plate. Too much? Well, it helps that Riley is a quarterback guru.

Now, a pressing question: What will the Riley/Langsdorf offense look like?

"I don't know if we're going to do solely what we've done before (at Oregon State)," Riley said. "Our quarterbacks have a different skill set here right now, which I'm excited about exploring a little bit."

He indicated he'll delve into the shotgun running game. 

"We're going to look at that and what best to do with that," he said. "But we're going to do some of the things we've been doing for a long time in the foundation of our running game, which is multiple personnel groups, multiple formations, a core group of four or five runs and play-action passes on first and second down.

"Defensively, we'll have a four-man front that will morph into some three-man stuff on third down. We'll probably be, on first and second down, a quarters-coverage team that also plays some man-to-man and does some zone blitz. On third down, we'll get into more multiple coverages with our three-man front."

Riley's feeling his way along in his new job, as one would expect. He asked a few reporters how often they were allowed to watch practices last season. How often was the head coach available, he wondered.

After Oregon State practices, Riley was surrounded by about 10 reporters, he said. He'll often find at least three times that many at Nebraska.

He was asked whether there's been a moment that the magnitude of his new job hit him.

"I think it's kind of … always," he said. "I think when I walk in in the morning, and you see all the trophies, it's pretty impressive."

The new guy seems in his element. At ease. But, as he noted, he's still undefeated.

Reach the writer at 402-473-7440 or ssipple@journalstar.com.



Husker columnist

Steven, a lifelong Nebraskan, newspaper enthusiast and UNL grad, joined the Journal Star in 1990 and has covered NU football since 1995.

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