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Hank Hughes’ Firing Sends a Message from Nebraska’s Mike Riley

Mike Riley

Mike Riley

Those who believed head coach Mike Riley saw his time at Nebraska as a cushy retirement gig should officially have their perspectives altered.

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A press release came out at just after 3 p.m. CST on Friday by Assistant Athletic Director Keith Mann noting that defensive line coach Hank Hughes had been relieved of his duties. Riley’s comments were brief yet curious.

“I want to thank Hank for his hard work and contributions to our football program over the past year,” Riley said. “We continue to build our program with the pursuit of championships always at the forefront of everything we do, and we will look for a great coach, teacher and recruiter to enhance our defense.” 

That second sentence immediately brings up the question of whether or not Hughes fit that mold.

While Nebraska did extremely well against the run in 2015, one has to wonder how much of that was defensive coordinator Mark Banker’s scheme or Hughes’ coaching. Maybe even what amount was from column A and what from column B.

Hughes’ recruiting has been a topic of conversation ever since his hire and with Nebraska not pulling in an elite defensive tackle in this past class, the murmurs became loud enough to hear from one booth of one Sunday morning Nebraskan breakfast table to the next.

Related: 5 Things We Learned About Nebraska after National Signing Day 2016

The removal of the Huskers’ most recent defensive line coach comes as welcome news to fans not just because of preference for other talent. Riley has done something that his predecessors seemingly weren’t keen on: cutting coaching staff fat and/or firing buddies.

Fans practically carried torches and pitchforks as Bill Callahan refused to let go of defensive coordinator and friend Kevin Cosgrove, a move that may have ultimately cost him his job. One of the worst kept secrets of the Bo Pelini era was that Pelini liked to be surrounded with people he knew.

No doubt Riley wishes Hughes no ill will. However, note that wide receivers coach Keith Williams and linebackers coach Trent Bray’s raises were made public two days before National Signing Day while the defensive line coach is let go a mere two days after. It’s clear that Riley encourages coffee (or pizza) for closers and offers no time for those who can’t complete all necessary tasks to be a part of his staff.

This should be extremely encouraging to all Husker faithful.

Nebraska fans have been begging for a coach that shows a little chutzpah, a recruiter that knows how to run a program and represents it in a way that they can be proud of.

How intriguing it is that it appears everyone who proudly wears the biggest “N” on Saturdays may get all that from the “career .500 coach” who’s allegedly too old or too nice, yet corralled a top-25 recruiting class after a 6-7 year.

Riley’s message to Nebraska fans and to the college football world is simple. Unlike those who came before him, he’s not going to waste the good people of Husker Nation’s time with "good enough."

— Written by Brandon Cavanaugh, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Be sure to follow Brandon on Twitter @eightlaces, Periscope (eightlaces) and like his Facebook page.