Things I know, and things I think I know:

Nebraska football coach Mike Riley once dreamed of teaching history and coaching football in high school.

Which is why Wednesday's scene at Sioux Falls (South Dakota) Washington High seems so appropriate. The scene also offers a glimpse into Riley as a recruiter.

Riley, Husker offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf and offensive line coach Mike Cavanaugh traveled to Sioux Falls last week to close the deal on offensive lineman Matt Farniok — an integral piece to the Huskers' class of 2016. The three coaches stopped by Washington High coach Chad Stadem's history classroom as he was wrapping up a lecture on the Dust Bowl period.

About 10 minutes remained before the class was to end.

"I went out to the hallway to say hi (to the coaches) and had the kids start on their homework," Stadem said Sunday. "Next thing I know, Coach Riley was in my room talking to my kids."

Perhaps you've noticed Riley's unassuming nature. He's devoid of pretense.

"He was dressed like a normal guy — tennis shoes, jeans, leather jacket," Stadem said. "Some of the kids didn't know who he was — until I told them later. And then they were like, 'Wow, that's Nebraska's head coach. He's a nice guy.' It was kind of funny."

Riley apparently enjoyed the setting.

"There's history stuff all over my classroom," Stadem said. "He looked at me and said, 'You are me. I wanted to be you.' He told me he wanted to teach American history and coach football. He said that was his dream job. He said I'm living his dream."

Make no mistake, getting Farniok's verbal commitment was a coup for Nebraska's program, which is short on tackles. If the 6-foot-5, 320-pound lineman adapts well to a much higher caliber of play than he faced at Washington, it's no stretch that he could see the field as a true freshman.

It should be noted Cavanaugh played the lead role in Farniok's recruitment.

Talk about unassuming. That's Cavanaugh.

"We have a real big commons area, and there are always kids in there," Stadem said. "He would just go up and say hi to them. He didn't know who they were. Kids would walk up to him and want to take a picture with him. He was glad to do it.

"He's an educator, obviously. That's important to him. He's not just a football coach. He's a big-picture guy and kids are important to him. You could see that. Same with with Riley and Coach Langsdorf. Riley was walking down the hallway and saying hi to the kids. They liked that."

Farniok apparently liked it. Seems like a great fit.

* When Rich Fisher landed his new job recently, I heard some folks snicker that it's "just a high school gig."

Careful with that line of thinking.

The 45-year-old Fisher, Nebraska's receivers coach from 2011-14, is the new head coach of Santa Margarita Catholic High School in Orange County, California. Yes, a high school gig. But there's a distinct corporate CEO mentality attached to the position.

Fisher isn't assigned to a teaching position. He oversees the varsity, junior varsity and freshman programs, meaning he leads a staff of 20-some coaches. He's also in charge of the budget, scheduling, fundraising, strength and conditioning, everything.

"They recruited me for the job in part because the model I'm going to use is a collegiate model, in terms of the year-round operation and how we function," Fisher said from Los Angeles.

Santa Margarita competes in the Trinity League, widely regarded as the best conference in California. Which is why Fisher will be expected to recruit at a high level, especially at the quarterback position.

"I'll give you an example," he said. "Southern California high school quarterbacks will move around in the league based on the depth of the roster and based on who else is playing at a particular school. That's just how it works."

Santa Margarita wants to build a national brand. It already boasts some impressive alumni, including Carson Palmer, Klay Thompson and Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher Jared Hughes.

Fisher was amazed at what he encountered at the school.

"We have a three-story athletic complex," he said. "We have an offensive and defensive staff room. We have a team meeting room and coordinator offices. I have a secretary and a director of football operations. We have a sports information director — all under football."

Yeah, it's a significant challenge — more formidable than coaching a position group at a major college.

* Among the many former Nebraska football players on hand for Lawrence Phillips' funeral Jan. 23 near Los Angeles was Richard Bell, who lettered as a 6-1, 195-pound Husker wingback from 1987-89.

Bell is now a police captain in West Covina, 18 miles east of Los Angeles. Phillips began his high school career in West Covina before transferring to nearby Baldwin Park High.

"Baldwin Park and West Covina actually border each other," Bell said. "The field he played on is just a couple miles from our station. The guys in our station, they're very familiar with Lawrence and understand where he came from."

Bell, at the funeral, obtained a stronger sense of Phillips' intelligence, saying it was "enlightening."

It was good catching up with Bell, 48, who played a season in the NFL as a third-down back with the Pittsburgh Steelers. You can read more about Bell in a "Where are they now" in our "Life in the Red" blog.

* Perhaps you've heard Tom Brady and Derek Jeter will headline a long list of celebrity guests on campus Wednesday for Michigan's National Signing Day celebration. Perhaps you despise Jim Harbaugh already, and now your jealousy overflows. Bear in mind, the event is being used to raise funds to fight childhood cancer in memory of Chad Carr, grandson of former UM coach Lloyd Carr.

Don't try to tell me Harbaugh isn't great for the college game.

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


Husker columnist

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

Load comments