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RICHARDS: Riley hoping for happy homecoming

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Darryl Richards

 
   
 
Every now and then, coach Mike Riley gazes out of his office window at Mary's Peak and thinks about how fortunate he is to be where he is at the moment. Home. Riley knows what the football office looks like at because not much has changed since he left the Beavers to coach the San Diego Chargers after the 1998 season. The furniture is the same. Riley has the same secretary. Riley was so familiar with the turf that he was able to retrieve a huge grease board that he used for meetings during his first go-around at . The board was in storage for the last four years. "When I walk into the office, it's almost eerie," Riley said. The fact that Mary's Peak is the highest peak on the Coastal Range seems like a bit of trivia. The mountain represents much more to Riley because he saw it often while growing up in Corvallis. It is the view Riley wants his children to see daily. It is a view Riley appreciates more than ever because he wasn't sure he would have a chance to enjoy it the same way. Riley is the first to admit that he groveled to get an opportunity to come back to . He turned down the job at his alma mater, , because he felt more comfortable coaching and living on the West Coast. Riley thought he would return to and coach . But the Bruins decided on Karl Dorrell and suddenly Riley was looking at returning to his assistant coaching gig with the New Orleans Saints. "I wanted to be back out West but the problem is it's hard to orchestrate that," Riley said. "I didn't know if I was passing up my last chance to be a head coach when I turned down the job. When the job didn't work out there were a lot of internal questions." Riley was fortunate that Dennis Erickson wanted a second chance too. Erickson jumped at the chance to get back in the NFL when the San Francisco 49ers offered him a chance to be the head coach. Suddenly, Riley had a chance to come back home and finish what he helped start. Riley left the first time with an 8-14 record, but he also had the Beavers heading in the right direction. posted a 5-6 record in 1998 and finished the season with a victory over Oregon in the Civil War. A 5-6 record would put many coaches on the hot seat. Instead, it made Riley a hot coach. The Beavers hadn't won five games in a season since 1971. Throw in consecutive one-point losses against Washington and Cal, and there were plenty of reasons to feel good about Riley and the program. And just like that, he was gone. San Diego took a chance on Riley but it was a disaster. The Chargers were 14-34 and Riley ended his tenure with a nine-game losing streak. San Diego was 6-10 in Riley's last season with all ten losses being by ten points or less. "I didn't let myself be bitter," Riley said. "I always knew that with time the wounds would heal. When I look back at that, I see it as a positive experience. I thought we were on the rise. But I understood what happened because of our track record. "I always regretted leaving . I've always admired people who never left their programs. There is a part of me that wishes I never left. But a part of me grew up in the NFL. I loved the players and the league and met a lot of great individuals. I learn a lot more football. I've learned a lot about evaluating talent. That's the key." Not too many coaches get a second chance to work with a previous employer. The track record for returning coaches is mixed. coached USC to a national title in 1978 and left the Trojans for the NFL after the 1982 season. He returned to USC in 1993 and took the Trojans to three bowls in his first three seasons, including a Rose Bowl in 1995. But Robinson couldn't keep up with USC's high expectations and was gone after posting consecutive 6-win seasons. Bill Walsh returned to Stanford after 15 years in 1992 and lasted for three years with some success. Johnny Majors won a national championship at Pitt in 1976 but was far less successful in his return. The Panthers never won more than four games in a season during Majors' second stint from 1993-96. Riley has a completely different situation. The Beavers had a taste of success with Erickson and are just three years removed from a Fiesta Bowl victory over . Chances are won't be able to count on that every year, but the Beavers have a program that should be able to consistently reach bowls and occasionally compete for the Pac-10 title. "It has grown dramatically from time we first got here," Riley said of the program. "The biggest change was the attitude. The biggest challenge was giving the team confidence. It didn't believe it could win." Expectations have overtaken hope. coaches still have to coach their players up, but the base level of talent is better than it has been in quite some time. Consider that Riley spent more time this spring trying to get a feel for potential backups at key positions such as quarterback and running back. Projected backups have received more playing time in scrimmages than returning starters. Riley will do much of the same in the spring game Saturday. The Beavers return 10 starters on offense, six on defense and both kicking specialists. "We know is our starting running back and we know is our quarterback," Riley said. "We have to learn about the other players." The players also have to learn about Riley. Some players have to learn about Riley for the second time. Although there are no current players from the last team Riley coached, there are players Riley recruited. Riley's recruiting pitch back putting together a team capable of taking to a new level. That happened, but it happened with Erickson. It's funny how it works out. Defensive tackle and receiver were angry when Riley left back in 1999 and thought about changing their commitments before the Beavers hired Erickson. Now, they will play for Riley. "It's strange, but the transition was comfortable," Newson said. "The good thing was they hired somebody we know. The offense is different. The intensity is a little different. But it's good because the young guys are getting exposed to two different kinds of coaches and growing. They are getting a different view."

Clarett the spectator

running back Maurice Clarett has been relatively quiet this spring, which is a remarkable feat considering his headline-making freshman season. coach Jim Tressel and team doctors decided to keep Clarett out of full-contact drills this spring because his shoulder is not at full strength. Clarett was banged up for most of the second half of the season with shoulder injuries. Clarett will not play in the Scarlet and Gray game on Saturday. Just because Clarett hasn't said much this spring, doesn't mean he is completely quiet. and received the majority of the work this spring while Clarett could only watch from the side. Clarett expressed his frustrations one day by writing "I'm bored, coach'' on his wristbands. But there are signs that Clarett may be getting wiser. Clarett could make somebody's jaw drop with his moves on the field and his words off. He was often thoughtful, occasionally funny and sometimes seemed immature. Clarett passed when he was recently asked to reflect on last season. "I don't want to talk about last season anymore,'' Clarett said. "I'm on to a whole other season, trying to win more games and be positive about a lot of things.''

Flirting

The college football landscape in 2006 may be a lot bigger than just figuring out what to do with the BCS. Conferences will also look for ways to strengthen their positions, which may mean another round of expansion around the country. The ACC reportedly became the latest to take a long look at the idea and is flirting with bringing in Miami. The ACC is exploring the possibility of adding three schools to become a 12-team league. The move would allow the conference to create two divisions and put together a conference championship game in football. It's a sensitive issue for Big East commissioner Mike Tranghese. and Miami are often mentioned as primary targets if there is another round of expansion around the country. Tranghese took the ACC to task last week and criticized the league for the way in which "they operate in the dark."

Big 12 incentive

There is a good chance will be a preseason Top 25 team or at the very least receive a lot of votes. The view of the Cowboys could change dramatically based on how does in its season opener against . That's the suddenly suspect Cornhuskers with a revamped coaching staff and a coach on the hot seat in Frank Solich. A win and has confidence along with a leg up on the rest of the Big 12. A victory will get the Cornhuskers thinking about normalcy after last season's 7-7 record. is 19-1 at Memorial Stadium against the Cowboys and was won 19 consecutive games at home against OSU dating back to 1960. "Playing a fine ball team to start season off is a tremendous incentive in the spring and the summer," coach Les Miles said. "I would not have scheduled first if I were making up the schedule. I understand that they have gone through changes. But they are still and we're going on their turf."

Briefly

  • Here's the first indication that new Baylor coach Guy Morriss could be in for a long season. The Bears went through spring with just eight offensive linemen. Two were walk-ons.
  • Coaches remain unsure about how to deal with agents. Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said defensive end got some bad advice from an agent and decided to skip his senior season. Wilkerson is projected as a second-day pick. Darryl Richards can be reached at his email address: drichards@foxsports.com.
  • Tagged: Syracuse, Ohio State, California, Oregon State, Stanford, Washington, UCLA, USC, Alabama, Notre Dame, Baylor, Oklahoma State, Oklahoma, Nebraska

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