LINCOLN — The Nebraska football players got a text message early Saturday morning about a team meeting at Memorial Stadium, and they surely knew what it meant.
A message cold and clear, just like the morning on which it happened.
A couple hours later, those players began to filter out of North Stadium, quietly passing the statue of Brook Berringer and Tom Osborne, and heading their separate ways after learning of the firing of head coach Mike Riley and his staff.
"It was emotional for all of us," said sophomore linebacker Mohamed Barry, one of a handful of players to speak with reporters as he left. "He's a great man."
Tanner Lee, perhaps the player more tied to Riley than anyone in the coach's three years in Lincoln, said it was "a tough morning."
"But it is what it is," the junior quarterback said. "We've still got a lot in front of us, and we still got a lot of positive out of coach Riley this morning."
Linebackers coach Trent Bray was named interim head coach while Nebraska searches for Riley's replacement.
"Coach Bray, he basically stepped up and said a few words, said he was emotional and he knows it's a hard time for everybody," sophomore defensive back Lamar Jackson said. "He just told everybody to stay together, and make sure everybody finishes this semester of school strong. Simple stuff."
What isn't so simple is what comes next, with the early signing period looming and schools across the country looking for coaches. The heat is on athletic director Bill Moos to swiftly make a strong hire.
"He's excited for the future. I think he's a great guy and I'm excited for what he brings to the program," Lee said of Moos. "I think he's the right man for the job here at Nebraska, so it's an exciting future with him leading the way."
Lee said the Huskers did their best to avoid the speculation that built as their season began to spiral out of control.
"I think we just kept our head down and kind of let everybody else worry about it, and we worried about playing football. As hard as that is to believe, that's really what we did," Lee said. "That's why we're here — we're here to play football and we're lucky to be here at Nebraska. So we just kind of enjoyed that day to day and realized we didn't want to take that for granted and didn't really worry about anything outside of that."
The Huskers will worry now about who will lead the program. Moos made his objective clear when meeting with the team.
"He basically told us he wants to bring Nebraska back to the top. He say he wants to stay up there with the best teams in the country," Jackson said. "He's going to go out there, go to work and try to find the best coach available.
"He told everybody to just wait and sit back, and he would take care of this program. He said, 'Why go somewhere else when you're at Nebraska?'"
Riley, speaking later in the afternoon, said his final meeting with his players was a difficult one.
"I told them, as I’ve gotten older in this thing, the thing I’ve appreciated as much as anything, more so than probably earlier on when it was all about the X's and O's and the coaching, is the relationship with players and the realization somewhere in the career that this thing is bigger than football," Riley said. "That our opportunity with these young men is special at a special time in their life. So if you approach your job that way, then the opportunity to see them in a situation like we did today is for me hard and emotional."