After Saturday’s 54-21 loss to Minnesota, all signs point to Nebraska making a coaching change at the end of the 2017 season. Mike Riley is 19-17 since taking over in Lincoln, but the program has failed to take a major step in terms of on-field performance. The Cornhuskers are also just 12-12 in Big Ten games.
New athletic director Bill Moos is tasked with a big decision at the end of the year, but he should have no shortage of interested candidates if the program decides to move on from Riley.
Who will be Nebraska’s head coach next season? Athlon’s editors and contributors provide their picks:
Who Will be Nebraska's Head Coach in 2018?
Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
Assuming Mike Riley is not retained, this will be an interesting hire for new athletic director Bill Moos. I don’t think it will be Scott Frost, as I think Florida is a more likely destination for the former Nebraska quarterback. Iowa State’s Matt Campbell is likely to be mentioned, but his buyout ($9.4 million) should keep him in Ames. I could see an up-and-coming coach like Toledo’s Jason Candle get into the mix, but I’ll take Penn State offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead. Under Moorhead’s direction, the Nittany Lions have made marked improvement on offense over the last two seasons. Penn State averaged 37.6 points a game in 2016 and increased that total to 37.7 this year. The Nittany Lions have averaged at least six yards per play in both of Moorhead’s seasons calling the plays and led the Big Ten with 23 passing plays of 40 yards or more in 2016. Prior to Penn State, Moorhead went 38-13 in four seasons at Fordham. He also guided the program to three FCS playoff appearances. Nebraska is likely to aim high and pursue proven head coaches for any vacancy this offseason. But Moorhead has a strong background on offense and garnered Big Ten experience after spending the last two years at Penn State. He’s ready to take over at a Power 5 job.
Mark Ross (@AthlonMarkR)
The obvious choice appears to be Scott Frost, but I don’t think the former Nebraska quarterback is coming home, not with multiple SEC jobs open. The next-best candidate would probably be either Justin Fuente or Matt Campbell, but I don’t see either of those leaving because the former is probably in a better job now and the latter has a near-$10 million buyout (and closer ties to Big Ten country).
The harsh reality is that the appeal and allure of the Nebraska job isn’t what it once was. That doesn’t mean new AD Bill Moos won’t find himself a quality head coach, it just may mean fans will have to be willing to accept he may not get the pick of the litter. In fact, if I’m Moos, I think it may be time to go a little against the grain and by that I mean go after someone who isn’t necessarily high on anyone’s radar but still makes sense.
With that in mind, my choice is Bret Bielema. While his overall record at Arkansas (29-32 in five seasons) may not look that great, this is a guy who has won considerably more games than he has lost while coaching in two Power 5 conferences – Big Ten and SEC – and his preference is to run the football, which is something that should appeal to Husker fans. I would like to see what he does with a change of scenery and let’s face it the Big Ten West is nowhere near the meat-grinder the SEC West is. And before you completely dismiss this idea, consider one more thing – even with a losing record at Arkansas, Bielema is 97-56 (.634) in his career. Riley was 93-80 (.538) at Oregon State before he got the Nebraska job.
Eric Sorenson (@Stitch_Head)
A good friend of mine was an assistant on the Bo Pelini coaching staff at Nebraska and he told me, the day they announced the hiring of Mike Riley, he walked into Tom Osborne’s office and the old coach was staring at his computer screen and muttering while shaking his head, “5-and-7, 3-and-9, 9-and-4, 7-and-6, 5-and-7…”
My friend asked what he was reading and Osborne said, “Those are the records of the last five years Mike Riley coached at Oregon State.”
Obviously, the athletic director emeritus didn’t have a say in Riley’s hiring after the 2014 season. My guess is this time he will.
New athletic director Bill Moos has plenty of candidates to sift through, including his old coach at Washington State, Mike Leach, and Iowa State’s Matt Campbell.
But my guess is that the program reaches back into its storied past. Scott Frost, the current UCF coach and former national championship-winning quarterback of the Big Red, will be called home to take the controls again.
It may not be the optimal time for the Wood River, Nebraska, native to make the big jump, but at least it won’t leave his former coach fretting over his won-loss mark.
J.P. Scott (@TheJPScott)
If there is one thing I’ve learned about high-profile Nebraska hires in athletics over the last decade or so, it’s that the powers that be almost never go with a known commodity. There could be any number of reasons for that, but it is what it is.
I’m banking on that being the case again when Nebraska replaces Mike Riley. The brass in Lincoln has learned their lesson — nice guys don’t win games. You need a football guy who is on the cutting edge of the sport and who cares about winning above all else — while also balancing faith and family in a way that will appeal to the Husker faithful.
For that reason, I think Nebraska athletic director Bill Moos goes off the beaten path and selects a coach who historically knows how to light up a scoreboard. I’ll put money down on Tulsa’s Philip Montgomery as the next head coach of the Nebraska Cornhuskers.
Chip Minnich (@ChipMinnich)
Nebraska will swing for the fences with Scott Frost, but the possibility of UCF playing in a New Year's Six bowl game, combined with the recent birth of his son, have me thinking Scott Frost is going to decline coming back to Lincoln. Frost will be the first call, but I am thinking the timing just is not right for him.
If not for his age (59), Wyoming's Craig Bohl would be a good candidate. He’s a former Nebraska assistant under Tom Osborne, who had enormous success at North Dakota State and now is at Wyoming, and he is familiar with the challenges and demands of the Nebraska job. But would Nebraska want to hire a coach who may be looking to retire in the next few years?
Instead, new athletic director Bill Moos should pick up the phone and call Washington State’s Mike Leach. Yes, I know that Leach says he is not following Moos to Nebraska, and I am not certain it would be a good fit, but Leach would be tremendously entertaining within the Big Ten West.
But the fascination with Leach aside, when it comes to a coach who can recruit, has had productive offenses, and would make Nebraska competitive again, I am going with Mississippi State’s Dan Mullen of Mississippi State. He’s young (45), can develop talent, and would help the Cornhuskers be competitive against Wisconsin, Iowa and Minnesota. Yes, I know Mullen has been linked to other jobs in the SEC, but I say that Moos will be able to persuade Mullen that his future is in Lincoln.