LINCOLN — Mike Riley has walked off the field toward the northwest corner of Memorial Stadium 21 times in three seasons.
On Friday, following a 56-14 drubbing by Iowa, the 64-year-old head coach walked off the stadium turf for quite possibly the final time in Lincoln. His fate now is in the hands of Nebraska's athletic director, Bill Moos.
Afterward, Riley told a room packed with reporters that he believes he's the right man for the job. His players backed him up.
Riley may have lost support from Husker fans as the eight losses began to pile up. We're likely to find out quickly if NU administrators support Riley enough to give him a fourth season.
What's not in doubt is support from many of the Husker players. Drew Brown called Riley an "amazing man." The Nebraska kicker believes Riley could use more time.
"Not a single coach on this staff hasn't handled adversity the way it should be handled," said Brown, who was one of 21 seniors to play their final game in a Husker uniform. "There's people calling for their jobs, but they're coming every single day to work, they're coming every day to watch film and help us get better.
"Ultimately, it's not my decision, but I think they're the right guys for what they do and there's a reason for why they're all here, and I can't thank coach Riley enough for what he's done for me."
Nebraska's senior class was not recruited by Riley, yet the coach made sure he got a chance to know them well upon his arrival following the 2014 season. Brown said Riley would ask about his family.
"I don't know how many coaches would do that," he said. "(Riley) really helped us get better as football players, but most importantly as young men."
Fellow senior Chris Weber said he has been impressed with how Riley has handled the current situation.
"The way he’s approached this season, the way he’s stayed the course, even during that transition when he first came in, I didn’t know what to expect," Weber said. "There’s just something about him. You want to play for him, play hard for him. He’s meant a lot to me as a person."
Junior quarterback Tanner Lee came to Lincoln to play in Riley's offense. Behind the teachings of Riley at Oregon State, multiple college quarterbacks have gone on to play in the NFL. Lee is hoping to be the next, and he said he owes it to Riley.
"I think he’s one of the most influential in my life so far," Lee said. "I’d say in a quick two years I’ve learned more from him than I could have ever imagined. I think the way he’s handled this season, I think there’s not another man on earth that could have done it like him.
"I want to tell him this: 'I can't wait to tell my kids that I played for coach Riley.' I am so lucky to have played for coach Riley, it’s unbelievable."
No matter who is coaching the Huskers next year, Brown said he hopes the underclassmen have a chip on their shoulder in 2018.
"We've got really, really good players in that locker room," Brown said. "And I think — I don't think, I know — they're going to do a good job this offseason. They're going to be just as motivated as ever to come out next year and be better."