LINCOLN, Neb. — Mike Riley has been at Nebraska for only 29 games, yet there is an air around the program that his job is on the line as the Cornhuskers get ready to open Big Ten play against Rutgers.
The 64-year-old Riley said he knew what he was getting into when he left Oregon State to come to Nebraska in December 2014 for, as he called it, "one last great adventure." This is a school that has won five national championships, went to bowl games every year from 1969-2003 and where two of the previous three coaches were fired after nine-win seasons.
With no conference titles since 1999, a fan base that has sold out every home game the last 55 years has become edgy after a second 1-2 start in three seasons. The howls about Riley, who has never had sustained success in 26 years as a head coach and is 16-13 at Nebraska, and athletic director Shawn Eichorst, the man who hired him, have grown loud after the embarrassing 21-17 loss at home to Northern Illinois on Saturday.
Asked by The Associated Press on Monday whether he thinks he's now coaching for his job, Riley said: "Oh, I always do. But I don't try to dwell on anything like that because I've got so many other people I need to help."
"Yeah, they are," he said.
The Huskers have lost six of nine games since last October. After the Northern Illinois loss, Eichorst, who made no announcement last month when a one-year contract extension for Riley was finalized, made a surprise appearance in the postgame interview area to give the coach a vote of confidence.
"We have all we need here to win," Riley said. "The resources and help provided by Shawn and the administration here are awesome and we understand the expectations and we embrace that. We are here to perform and compete and recruit at the highest level. And we did not perform like that on Saturday. We have to get back to playing good, solid football."
Riley lamented Tanner Lee's three interceptions, two of which were returned for touchdowns, and the three sacks and multiple hits delivered by a Mid-American Conference defense. The Huskers rushed for only 85 yards, and they committed five ill-timed penalties.
"We had all the ingredients of a loss," Riley said. "When you look at the scoreboard, look at the video or look at the statistics, there's nothing good about it. The recipe and ingredients for losing were all over the place."
The criticism from fans and media was predictable.
"Whatever was said, we've probably earned," Riley said.
Riley said he and his staff were re-examining how they prepare for practices and game-planning and that there would be changes, though he wouldn't elaborate. A former offensive coordinator, Riley said he had thought about but would not take over the play-calling duties from Danny Langsdorf.
"I have been around a while, so I've seen good times and I've seen hard times, and I feel good about that," Riley said. "We can do better, we can help these kids, we can play better than that, and that can result in winning."
Riley said he has a great support system with his wife, Dee, who attended his news conference.
"I have a tremendous home," he said. "I think she still likes me. I used to rely on my dog, Rudy, when I got home. I knew Rudy just wanted to go for a walk. He was glad to see me. Rudy's not around anymore. But Dee is pretty consistent."