Indiana vs. Nebraska, 2.24.16

New Nebraska defensive line coach John Parrella (left) watches the Nebraska-Indiana game with head coach Mike Riley on Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2016, at Pinnacle Bank Arena.

Two key hires, two prevailing takeaways:

1. Nebraska's athletic administration and head football coach seem to have cohesion, which I'm convinced is integral for NU to return to championship form.

2. Mike Riley and his bosses are serious about getting the Huskers back into such form, pronto, in case anybody wondered.

In that regard, Riley, in 25 years of being a head coach, can't remember ever firing an assistant coach after only one season.

"I really don't think I have," he said Wednesday. "That's a good point."

In the wake of Hank Hughes' recent firing as defensive line coach — and ex-Husker John Parrella's hiring as his replacement —  Riley understands the narrative that he feels extra urgency following a 6-7 season.

No matter the circumstances, Riley said, he's always evaluating his program with the "big picture" in mind. That's just being a chief executive. He said he agonized over the firing of Hughes, but felt he needed a better fit.

Riley pushes forward with support from his bosses. Don't overlook that part. There was strong evidence of chemistry Wednesday when Riley said the hiring of Billy Devaney as executive director of player personnel and special assistant to the head coach actually was the brainchild of Nebraska athletic director Shawn Eichorst and Steve Waterfield, executive associate athletic director for performance and strategic research.

"They said, 'Are you interested in a guy like this?'" Riley said.

Of course he was interested. It's a great idea. Riley called his old friend from the NFL, Devaney, and asked for ideas about who might be interested in the job. Somewhere along the way, Riley decided Devaney would be the perfect fit. After all, Devaney is an NFL front-office veteran. The 60-year-old served as general manager of the St. Louis Rams from 2008 to 2011 and was most recently a scout for the Atlanta Falcons. And, no, he's not related to Bob.

Think of his new role as being comparable to that of an NFL general manager in that he will oversee Nebraska's expanding player-personnel department. Previous head coach Bo Pelini's staff had such a department. But what we're seeing under Riley is massive expansion in that area. Greater attention to detail. More organization. Better use of manpower.

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We're seeing something on par with what you see at Alabama, Ohio State, the big dogs. Devaney has evaluated literally thousands of players. He got his start in the NFL front-office world as the director of pro personnel for the San Diego Chargers from 1990 to 2000. Riley, the Chargers' head coach from 1999-2001, recalls Devaney asking to watch practice film with the coaches to get a better idea of the staff's needs. That was unique, Riley said.

"Whether it's psychological or physical — however you look at who you're recruiting — that's where I think Billy will be a big help to us," Riley said. "I need that older, veteran evaluation expert that will help our younger personnel people and our coaches. It's just one more veteran eye."

During our 70-minute conversation, perhaps my favorite line from Riley was: "Our players came here for a reason, and we owe it to them to be an expert about teaching football."

Yes, experts. Perfect. Note all the NFL experience on Riley's staff. Parrella is an expert with 12 seasons of NFL playing experience, plus a bonus on his resume.

"I told him (Tuesday) night at dinner, 'I didn't hire you because you went to Nebraska — I want you to know that,'" Riley said. "I told him it's a bonus, and it's a great bonus."

Parrella is passionate about what Nebraska did for him as a person. That passion will shine through in recruiting. Hughes struggled in recruiting, although Riley didn't want to get into specifics about Hughes.

The firing decision kept Riley up at night.

"As a matter of fact, it was so hard I waited too long," he said. "I just was trying to figure out if I could fix it, if I could make it work. Hank's a wonderful person. A lot of times these things are about fit and what you bring to the particular spot."

Riley is showing a chief executive's mentality. And he seemingly appreciates the executives above him.

"We have forward-thinking people," he said. "The thing I've appreciated most is they end almost every meeting with, 'What else do you need? How can we help you?' Those are beautiful words."

Especially when you're battling to return to championship form.

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.

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