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COURTESY: UNIVERSITY OF NEBRASKA - Nebraska media members have had new Cornhuskers football coach Mike Riley surrounded since he was chosen to succeed the relatively successful but volatile Bo Pelini.LINCOLN, Neb. — When Mike Riley was hired to succeed Bo Pelini as Nebraska's football coach last December, many Cornhusker fans shrugged and asked, "Who?"


Eight months later, as the Cornhuskers prepare for the opening game of the Riley era against Brigham Young Sept. 5 at Memorial Stadium, consensus opinion has shifted dramatically.

Nebraska football is a national brand with history and tradition. Fans expect their teams to win with regularity, and Pelini came through well there, going 67-27 in his seven seasons at the helm, including 22-10 against Big Ten brethren since the Cornhuskers joined the conference in 2011. Pelini's teams won at least nine games every season, something only Alabama and Oregon have matched in the FBS ranks since 2008.

But Nebraska faithful also wants to see dignity and decorum from the man in charge, traits of which the volatile Pelini was sorely lacking.

Over the last two seasons, he disparaged Nebraska fans with obscenities, drew an unsportsmanlike penalty after a tantrum in which he threw a hat, nearly hitting an official, and challenged athletic director Shawn Eichorst to fire him in a post-game press conference. During his final meeting with players following his dismissal after last season, he ripped Eichorst, using a pair of female expletives.

A sampling of opinion from Cornhusker fans in downtown Lincoln shows that the mild-mannered, even-tempered Riley is a welcomed replacement, provided he, too, can win games.

"I like to see the football team do well, but it's more important to me that it's run clean and the students graduate," says Tom Marley, 53, a professor of mathematics at Nebraska. "I was never a fan of Bo Pelini. He was a poor representative of the university. He didn't reflect well. Mike Riley is a complete 180 on that. I'm really happy he's here."

Don Shea, 74, has been following Nebraska football since the Bill Glassford era (1949-55).

"I used to sit in the Knothole Section as a kid," Shea says.

Shea worshipped former Cornhusker coaches Bob Devaney 1962-72 and Tom Osborne (1973-97), and at first felt the same way about Pelini.

"But he went a step too far," Shea says. "I got tired of his attitude, and he was getting worse. I don't like firing a coach, but it was too much."

Shea has grown convinced that Riley is the right man for the job..

"When it first happened, I went, 'Oh, boy, who's Mike Riley?" Shea says. "But I've learned a lot. I wasn't excited at first, but I am now, because of the coaches' attitude. He has hired a good staff, with better teachers, and Tommy (Armstrong, the quarterback) needs some teaching. I'm not an optimistic person, but I am about this coaching staff.

"And Riley, he's a good ol' Irish boy like me. I like the way he smiles. I'm real excited about the (upcoming) season, and sometimes I haven't been."

Nebraska sophomore Zach Geist grew up in Forest Grove.

"I've been an Oregon State fan for a while," says Geist, 19. "I know all about Mike Riley. He's a great guy, very down to earth, and someone who knows how to build a program. He fits our fans better than coaches have the past 10 years."

Brei Wagner, 23, is a 2014 Nebraska graduate whose perspective comes in part from a friendship with several of the Cornhusker players.

"They admired Pelini and stood behind him," Wagner says. "I knew he was doing the right things for the players, and focusing on academics and pushing them in the way he needed to. But I can see from fans' perspective, they didn't like the way he acted."

When Riley was hired, "I had no idea who he was," Wagner says. "I turned to social media, as many young professionals my age do, and initially the reaction was pretty negative.

"But within a matter of a day or two, things changed. People started doing their research and getting more facts, talking about how great of a guy he is and how he compares to (basketball coach) Tim Miles. That's the type of personality we need at Nebraska. Now everyone it seems is behind Coach Riley. We're excited for the season to start."

Perhaps speaking for the minority, a man who identifies himself as "Bill," 57, remains skeptical about the new coach, with mixed emotions about Pelini's departure.

"It was probably time for a fresh start," he says. "Pelini took the program about as far as he could. But I liked his style. He was a modern man.

"We'll see how it goes with Riley. I mean, why him? Why this guy? What's he really ever done? It was a surprising choice, but I'm trying to keep an open mind about it."

TRIBUNE PHOTO: KERRY EGGERS - Nebraska football coach Mike Riley stands alongside a statue of Cornuuskers legends Brook Berringer (left) and Tom Osborne outside Memorial Stadium in Lincoln, Neb.Riley has seemed to win over the senior women's set.

"Pelini was an OK coach; I did not like his personality," says Lynn Davis, 68, a lifelong Nebraska native and a Cornhusker fan since she was a little girl. Riley "is very honest, very open, very committed to helping us do better. The players are dedicated to the new coach, and he's trying some new things. I think he'll win big."

"I wasn't in love with Pelini," says Marna Surkan, "65-plus," who has lived in Lincoln since 1969. "I don't know too much about (Riley), but he seems pleasant. I'm glad to have him aboard."

Hudl is a national football video analysis firm headquartered in Lincoln. Its employees work closely with Nebraska coaches.

"I try to be realistic and say it's not going to be magic overnight, but I was ecstatic when we hired Riley," says Eric Brouillette, 24, a recent Nebraskan who is interactive designer for Hudl's marketing team. "Pellini was such a polarizing figure. I'd like to believe Riley isn't going to be that. It's important to all of us for the coach to maintain dignity and be thought of highly in the community.

"He'll have the fan support. Given time, he can probably produce some wins. I've heard he did a good job recruiting at Oregon State going up against the likes of Oregon and California schools. For him to put a decent product out on the field (at OSU) compared to those teams gives me high hopes."

"We're looking to put the Pellini era behind us," says Andrew Abraham, 28, another Hudl employee. "It's probably going to be a rebuilding year, but the program is better off with a coach like Riley. Once the dust had settled after his name was announced, there were some articles that came out saying he is one of the guys coaches want to send their sons to play for. That's pretty cool."

Nebraska has won five national championships, but none since 1997. The Cornhuskers' last conference championship came in 1999. Still, fans clamor for more. Riley will be expected to win big.

"The fans here expect championships eventually," Geist says. "They want to get back to the glory years of the '90s."

"Husker fans can be a little rash at times," Wagner says. "We have extremely high expectations for wins and conference championships and national championships. In the first few years, we'd like to see at least the number of wins Coach Pellini was able to produce, if not more, and some championships from there."

"Somebody predicted a 9-4 season, and that would be OK," Surkan says. "I'd like it a little higher."

"I can see losing four games, maybe two games next year," Shea says. "You can't win them all. But these fans here are kind of nutty."

But, says Marley, some are also gaining an appreciation for how difficult it is to win big at the FBS level.

"People understand the football world has changed over the last 20 years," he says. "They would like to see an occasional Big Ten championship, but there are going to be some people who say, 'If he can't win a national championship in five years, he should go.'

"I would be satisfied if he would just maintain the success we've had -- nine or 10 wins a year -- but do it with class, and in a way the team seems organized and cohesive and doesn't fall apart and collapse like they've done against Wisconsin a couple of times. If he maintained that success for a decade, that would be a great tenure as coach."

Indeed, Pelini teams won a lot of games, but went 1-2 against Wisconsin and lost to Michigan State and Minnesota in each of the last two seasons and dropped three of six bowl games under his watch.

"One thing that stuck out from the Pelini era was losing in big games," Abraham says. "Winning a couple of them would help. And getting to a Big Ten championship game would be nice."

"It's all about recruiting," says Matt Carey, 47. "If he can get the type of player he needs to run his pro-style system, he'll be fine. He will represent the university well, and he won't embarrass us on the sidelines. If he wins nine games his first year and represents the university well, he'll be here a long time."

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