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December 18, 2012

View from the SEC: Coaching Carousel Continues

Welcome to the sometimes inauspicious world of big-time college football, Beaver fans.

You know you've arrived as a program - and experiencing the kind of success that makes other teams envious - when schools supposedly occupying a higher spot on the mythical college football totem pole try to poach your coaches.

After he dismissed "pretty wild speculation" about his interest in the Wisconsin job, the Great Mile Riley Christmas Crisis of 2012 appears over and Oregon State fans are left smiling knowing that, barring anything unforeseen, their beloved coach will be back next season.

Riley, to his credit, acknowledged indirect contact with Wisconsin "representatives," saying he "got a phone call knowing there is some interest" and that "I do know through a second source that there might be some interest."

Translation: someone connected to Wisconsin called my agent or authorized representative to gauge my interest in the job and they passed along the message to me.

From that, we got reports Riley had agreed to interview for the Badgers job.

Good luck getting a SEC or Big 12 head coach fearful of the recruiting fallout to admit anything about interest from another school, even if it's true. Instead, most coaches turn to the typical cop-out taught in Coaching 101: "I haven't spoken with anybody at (insert name of school)."

Of course, what these evasive coaches conveniently fail to mention is their agent or somebody else authorized to act on their behalf are negotiated/engaged in discussions on their behalf. Keeping talks in the hands of third parties gives coaches plausible deniability when they speak in the first person, which is what they typically do.

Even Riley fell into that trap a little bit by exclaiming, "I have not talked with anyone from Wisconsin," but he went farther than 99 percent of other coaches in terms of disclosing how far the talks with the Badgers advanced.

Clearly, taking Riley's words at face value ("My long-term intention has always been to stay here at Oregon State"), they didn't move past the preliminary stage.

Riley, clearly amused by the situation, said he has declared his desire to remain the Beavers coach "a million and a half times." Right now, though, all that's important is he has now said it 1,500,001 times.

And that's a good thing for Oregon State. Riley's down-to-earth personality is a perfect fit for Corvallis. Nick Saban? Not so much. He wouldn't last long in Beaver Nation with his perpetually sour temperament.

Riley realizes he has a great life at Oregon State. The Pac-12 is growing rapidly. Attendance at Reser Stadium is rising. He has a competitive team coming back in 2013. Recruiting is going well.

Frankly, no reason exists for Riley to leave OSU except to enrich his own pockets, and he doesn't appear to be that kind of person, let alone coach. He has made plenty of money in his career, and he knows it. He reached the mountain top (NFL head coach) in his profession, but quickly discovered life here isn't as rosy or glamorous as one might think.

Riley summed it up this way: "I can't even imagine at this stage of me thinking about leaving. I sit in my office and wonder about that. I have a great life, I have a great group of kids, we're recruiting a great class. I have a great staff. It's a little bit nave to just say we're going to stay here the rest of our life because I know you have to win and all that stuff. Like I've said before, we're going to scratch and claw to try to keep winning. I'm proud of what's gone on here."

After a decade in Corvallis, when Riley sits down with a recruit in his home, he can truthfully utter a word few other coaches can: stability.

But Riley added a key caveat - you never say never in the coaching profession and the fantasy world of big-time college athletics, especially at the BCS level where the sharks are constantly circling.

Confirming his resolve to remain the Beavers head coach doesn't obscure the fact, though, that Riley is woefully underpaid compared to his Pac-12 counterparts.

Believe it or not, Riley's annual guaranteed compensation (modern lingo for 'base salary') of $1.3 million (incentives not included) is more than $2 million less than Oregon's Chip Kelly, more than a million dollars less than underperforming Steve Sarkisian at Washington and more than $900,000 less than the enigmatic Mike Leach at Washington State.

Heck, there are a few offensive and defensive coordinators around the country currently earning more than Riley.

Simply, nine-win head coaches at the BCS level deserve to earn a lot more than what Riley is being paid right now. Frankly, Oregon State is playing big-boy football and the time has arrived to start acting like it.

Get ready to write the check, Bob DeCarolis.

Where will the money come from? The new-found money each conference school is set to receive arising from the sparkling new multi-billion TV deal with ESPN and Fox and, of course, the launch of the Pac-12 network.

While many coaches have shamelessly leveraged the interest shown by other schools into lucrative contract extensions, Riley doesn't appear interested in acting like a "mercenary" and playing a high-stakes game of chicken with Oregon State administrators.

But he is hopeful his loyal assistants will garner well-deserved raises, saying, "I have talked to our people about doing some stuff for our assistant coaches."

Thus, you should expect announcements in the near future about raises and/or extensions for Riley's coaching staff.

The consequences should Oregon State fail to award Riley and his coordinators with larger contracts are dire - learjets from wealthier schools with limitless budgets will continue to land at the Corvallis airport with powerful boosters and/or athletic directors aboard looking to swipe Riley away.

As Riley acknowledged, successful coaching staffs will always be targeted by other schools, especially one perceived by those outside the inner circle to be underpaid and/or underappreciated by its administration.

Riley faced a good question in his press briefing on Friday. If nothing more than a phone call was involved, how did that leak out? Easy. Someone at Wisconsin tipped off the media about the contact with Riley in order to placate the demanding Badger fan base looking for a quick fix to the unexpected coaching vacancy.

Remember, Bret Bielema took some subtle shots at Wisconsin on his way out of town, and multiple coaches thought to be fascinated with the prospect of becoming King of Madison have quickly and publicly expressed their lack of interest in the job.

Insert sad trombone sound here.

The result? Hysteria. Apparently, the anger, angst and bitterness in Wisconsin has mushroomed into something few envisioned, so athletics director and former football coach Barry Alvarez begged Badgers fans not to panic when speaking with reporters on Sunday.

Sure. After all, it's been a whole two weeks since Bielema bolted for Arkansas and the hated (at least in Big Ten country) Southeastern Conference.

Thankfully, Oregon State doesn't have that problem at the moment.


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