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Things Mike Riley Should Do

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Despite appearrances, things are not all smiles these days for Oregon St. Coach Mike Riley. It's time to do something about that.
Despite appearrances, things are not all smiles these days for Oregon St. Coach Mike Riley. It's time to do something about that.
(Photo by Andy Wooldridge)

I've been patiently waiting for several days since the conclusion of back to back embarassments against Washington and Oregon to see if Oregon St. head coach Mike Riley (or Athletic Director Bob DeCarolis) would demonstrate leadership and take action.

Disappointingly, but not surprisingly, neither has.

Meanwhile, multiple other programs faced with situations unacceptable to their investors and customers, have already begun making changes, including many in better shape than Oregon St., and some who are headed for a bowl game, something the Beavers have missed out on for the 3rd time in 5 years now. To the detriment of all concerned.

This will continue in the days to come, diminishing the available options for Oregon St. That's why the delibrative, deep analysis approach Coach Riley has already announced he will undertake is a mistake.

For starters, a second consecutive collapse down the stretch, which has produced the worst stretch in conference, 2-12, in 15 years, and a 5th year of decline in the last 6, which culminated in the worst 4 year stretch in Oregon St. football since the late 90s (and that's with the Alamo Bowl run included!), should have signaled that wholesale change, not more tinkering, is required, as well as expected, and that should have been understood a month ago.

I say expected, because the investors and customers have been repeatedly clearly stating their expectations, despite the efforts of apologists on staff and elsewhere to attempt to sell the idea of more patience with more flawed strategy.

That too has already been proven to be a failure, as NFL imports Rod Perry and John Garrett, though they have both made some tactical improvements, have not been able to make a fundamentally flawed approach successful.

I titled this article "What Mike Riley Should Do" because its not reasonable to expect someone else to be the one making the moves. With 7 years of contract to eat, a mis-managed athletic department that hasn't taken the steps to maximize return on investment can't afford to replace Riley. To do so is highly unlikely, and probably an even worse business decision, further delaying multiple capital improvements and program enhancements already overdue.

Many in the media have been slow to criticize Riley's failings, and for good reason; they are afraid of losing their access that could come from a new coach that closes off the world after DeCarolis fails to stipulate that that won't happen. So its safer to play softball, especially if you are the senior writer for a paper and also a boyhood friend of Riley. Or to have the sports editor of the flagship paper not bother to show up for the Washington or Oregon games, in order to maintain plausible deniability; dispatching a staffer instead of editorializing about the unacceptable performance that wouldn't hold a job any place else.

But as noted, Riley isn't leaving, so its time to get over that for everyone, and have some actions that will demonstrate a commitment to overhaul.

The first one is declare that Oregon St. is going to go to a read option spread system, and back up the announcement with actions, starting with making Marcus McMaryion the #1 quarterback right now.

McMaryion is Oregon St.'s most mobile quarterback, and there is no debate about that.

Name Kyle Kempt the #2 now as well, as he has run the spread successfully moreso than anyone else on hand, and can be the Cody Vaz of the future in case McMaryion gets clobbered at some point.

Notice that I haven't said select a new offensive coordinator as the first step in this process, and there are 2 reasons for this.

For one, finding an OC that will implement spread and read option principals will be easier after candidates see this is not another episode of really trying to find someone to tweak the current system.

Secondly, it doesn't matter if it works or not.

That's right. It doesn't.

What matters is its what investors want to see, and we have reached the point that until it is tried with a commitment to give it a chance to work, not an exercise designed to fail, those investors won't believe its not the right route to go.

Whether it can work with the current personnel, I have no idea. I think Victor Bolden and Jordan Villamin can handle it, and so can Storm Woods and Chris Brown.

I'm not sure the current offensive line personnel can handle it, but if they can't, at least some of the recruits Oregon St. might be able to get and keep running the system at least 75% of the prospects out there have been trained in for 6-8 years probably can.

It will also be easier to find a new offensive line coach, for the same reason.

Personally, given the reality of football in the last decade, I would have already parted ways with Mike Cavanaugh a long time ago. I assumed at a minimum, that would have happened Sunday or Monday. It didn't, but there's time to take care of that.

The next move has a more challenging aspect to it, as I'm not convinced that Trent Bray is ready to be a Defensive Coordinator. I'm not convinced that he isn't either, though.

That I think can be the subject for a detailed conversation between Riley and Bray.

But the framework should be to determine if Bray believes the 3-3-5 or the 3-4-4 with regular rotation into nickel coverage should be the better base scheme. Lets hear what his thoughts on the matter are.

The key reason for this, as we saw AGAIN this past year, is that Oregon St. can produce A quality DT, but it can not consistently produce 2 of them at the same time. The depth isn't there in the event of an injury, and won't be any time soon in Corvallis any more than in any number of other locales that can and do out-recruit the Beavers, and already have gone the 3 man front route, because its easier to find 1 Danny Shelton than 2.

This is not an indictment of defensive line coach Joe Seumalo; its just another recognition of fact. Fact that can easily be checked by checking out a few high school football games, and noting how many massive linemen are in the pipeline compared to the number of athletes that look a lot more like Jaswha James or D.J. Alexander.

Oregon St. can recruit speed a lot better than size defensively, for the same reason Arizona can, and Oregon can, and even Washington can. There is more of it to be had.

If the decision is that Bray is better off remaining the LB coach for a while, then its time to conduct some other interviews.

But in either case the first word out of any candidate's mouth had better be "Containment". The next phrase must be "Safety High Security". If anything else comes up first, that interview is automatically terminated at that point. Thanks for coming, but time to move on.

These concepts have been lost on any number of players for several seasons now, and as long as they continue to be anything other than first priority, the offense won't be able to keep up regardless of scheme.

Riley has already said "We just didn't score enough," in regard to this season, and "These days you have to be able to score 35 or 40 points to win. We have fallen behind our Pac-12 brethren, for sure," Riley said.

That's something everyone can agree on, and I'm glad Riley at least has recognized that. That's why the offense has to go down field on a much more frequent basis.

But the defense has to at least slow down the opposition as well.

Oregon had a half dozen plays for 25 yards or more, and a 23 yard touchdown run that would have been longer had Marcus Mariota not run into the end zone first.

Washington had 4 touchdown plays of more than 30 yards, 3 of them for over 50 yards.

Even if the plays move the sticks, they can't flip the field, or the scoreboard, time and again.

Again, it doesn't matter if initially the players on hand can win playing an inverted style that actually emphasizes containment, not loss of it.

The investors want to see a change in philosophy, and won't be satisfied until they see one, whether it works or not.

And a couple of turnovers can change many of Oregon St.'s recent losses (I'm thinking here of the 3 consecutive blown 4th quarter leads in Reser, not the non-competitive efforts in the other 3 losses down the stretch this season.)

Finally, find a way forward without the oft-reassigned Bruce Read. Special teams is NOT what you do when you can't do anything else.

Oregon St. hasn't been able to return a punt to save their life since James Rodgers was around, and that's mostly because the Beavers don't block opponents' coverage.

Worse, kickoff returns have been a constant liability. Under current rules, intended to eliminate kickoff returns to eliminate by implication the big collisions that come with them, especially combined with the penchant most officials have for flagging blocking of kick returns, taking a touchback is on balance the best choice in most circumstances.

When its not, its more critical than ever to get vertical through the first available crease.

This too has not been successfully instilled in Oregon St. special teams players.

These are fundamentals problems, and having Sammy Stroughter back wouldn't fix that.

Whether Read is that situationaly unaware, or just can't convey the message doesn't matter; it's not happening, and has not happened for a long enough time, and with a large enough cast of characters, that its reasonable to assume its not going to happen.

Investors want change, and if they don't see it, the dollars that are required to keep the volleyball program Coach Liskevych has turned around and taken to the NCAAs for the first time in a generation, since 2001, earning the Pac-12 Coach of the Year honor in the process, and the men's soccer program that the University loves to promote, are going will dry up, and there won't be anything for the morning and noon talk shows to talk about instead of the more pressing issues with the football program.

That's not popular or politically correct to say, but this is business, and business is about to get bad.

Just as few could survive the situation Riley has allowed to develop, few could survive taking these kind of bold strokes all at once, because at least some of them are bound to run into bumps, and big ones.

But Riley is uniquely positioned to take bold steps to start the transition from the current state of affairs he is also uniquely positioned to survive.

Does anyone really think the players, the students, and the rest of Beaver Nation wouldn't get behind such a series of moves that would speak louder than any words ever could?

Andy_Wooldridge@yahoo.com