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OFD Opinions: McElwain, Riley, & Predictions on Michigan

Saturday is the new day for scorching hot One Foot Down opinions on college football issues.

Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports


Both Florida and Nebraska moved quickly in hiring new coaches in recent days. The Gators inked Jim McElwain from Colorado State and the Cornhuskers grabbed Mike Riley from Oregon State. Do you like these moves? Also, make your prediction on Michigan's next head coach.



The McElwain hire is solid, but nothing more. He should immediately improve the Gators offense and do a fine job recruiting. He has a nice pedigree but only being a head coach for 3 years at his age (52) feels like a risk, or at least a warning sign. I saw someone on Twitter say that he has a similar feel to the Darrell Hazell hire at Purdue a couple years ago in that an older-than-you-think guy with not much head coaching experience basically rode one good year at a lower level to a big job. That might not be completely fair to McElwain but I can understand the comparison.

I'm not a big fan of Riley at Nebraska. He'll be 62 years old before the start of next season and if someone is going to get the Cornhuskers over that Pelini hump I don't know if he's the guy to add much better talent. Pelini was making in-roads in Ohio and now Riley is going to reverse course and presumably focus on California. Sounds good in theory but he also has to install a radically different offense and recruit different players for said offense. I've always thought Riley is a good coach but these seem like tough barriers to immediate success. He'll be a good coach but I'll be surprised if he's an improvement over Pelini.

I think Michigan's next coach will  be Steve Addazio.


I'm a fan of the Jim McElwain move. It's a little 'flavor of the week'-ish in terms of grabbing the hot mid-major name, but it was a given that Florida would want a guy that's been a head coach before after the Will Muschamp swing-and-miss. While a more established guy might have been preferable to some extent, I feel like the tiers among the higher-end jobs are rapidly shrinking. Everyone has money now, almost everyone has facilities and the gap between the Floridas and, say, the Mississippis of the world is shrinking. McElwain was a guy a lot of the OFD staff and other ND Internet outposts had in mind for the next coach if the Irish found themselves with a vacancy in the near future, so it shouldn't be a surprise that another school went that direction as well. I think McElwain should get Florida at least back to consistent 8+ win type seasons. Whether he goes any higher will be fun to watch.

I don't really understand the Riley to Nebraska move, but there is some, albeit tenuous, logic to it. For Nebraska, they get a guy who's won with some regularity at the 6-7 wins per year level at a place that's as hard to win at as any Power 5 school. Giving him the cachet of Nebraska, with all the upgrades that entails, should be enough to enable Riley to be successful. In a vacuum, that's sensible. Of course, it seems unlikely he'll do appreciably better than the guy Nebraska just fired. That being said, I suspect there was more to Bo Pelini's axe than on-field results. Riley has a reputation as among the nicest guys in coaching, a polar opposite to Pelini's sideline antics that even put Brian Kelly's infamous purple face to shame. Riley will have his chance to prove he's truly a blue-blood coach at a high-level program.

I have a gut feeling Michigan is going to throw some sort of curveball in their coaching hire, someone off the already-speculated list of Harbaugh, Miles, Addazio et al. Because of that, I'll posit a guess that they'll end up hiring Pat Narduzzi, further inflaming the growing animosity between themselves and Michigan State.


I'd give Florida an A on results and an A+ on process. The results grade doesn't necessarily mean that I think McElwain is guaranteed to be a success, just that I think he's clearly the best "up-and-comer" available right now. The process grade is based on Foley once again clobbering everyone else who was on the market or potentially on the market by having a search wrapped up before other searches - some for very high-profile schools (cough cough Michigan) - were even really moving. Florida may have payed a little bit of a premium to help with that buyout, but it's not too bad and if they got the right guy it'll be more than worth it.

I'd give Nebraska a B-/C+ on results and an A on process. The results grade comes from a belief that he'll be a very slight upgrade over Pelini on the field, although he could apparently be a significant upgrade in fan and alumni relations, so there's that. It feels like a treading-water hire while they're trying to figure something else out. The process grade is for having this presumably arranged before firing Pelini, and with a guy nobody knew was on the market. Very well done to keep this hire extremely low-profile and fast.

As for Michigan... Despite their fans' protestations to the contrary, I don't think there's any realism behind the Harbaugh candidacy. Not even remotely. If Harbaugh takes the job, I would consider it a bigger upset than when he beat USC as a 41-point underdog. In fact, much like with recent Notre Dame searches, I don't think a lot of the names floating around are realistic for one reason or another. Bob Stoops, Les Miles, Guz Malzahn, Dan Mullen, Mike Gundy, Kevin Sumlin, Butch Jones, etc. all either have better situations or are a bad cultural/stylistic fit for Michigan football. Steve Addazio seems like a good candidate, and Jerry Kill might be a guy to keep an eye on as a dark horse; his health issues may make him less attractive, but he's done a good job at Minnesota. As a really dark horse, I've seen Pat Shurmur's name mentioned - he's Philadelphia's offensive coordinator, he reportedly wants a head coaching job somewhere, and while he has professional history at MSU he's from Ann Arbor. Pat Narduzzi and Pat Fitzgerald keep coming up, but I can't see either of them jumping to Michigan. The safest bet out of all those guys is probably Addazio.

Jim Freel:

I like McElwain to Florida a lot. He's a guy who has some experience being the head man and knows what a championship program looks like from his days at Alabama. I also think it was a good hire because Florida needed an offensive guy since Muschamp struggled so much on that side of the ball.

I'm ok with the Mike Riley hire at Nebraska but not it wasn't as good a move as Florida and McElwain. It seems like Bo Pelini was fired as much for the way he was running the team as he was for wins and losses. Riley has shown he's a good to very good coach. One big issue with Riley is that he is 61 and it will be interesting to see if he has immediate success because he may not me interested in rebuilding a team from scratch at his age.

I'm going with Addazio for Michigan... And their futility will continue.


While McElwain is likely a little bit more of an unproven commodity than some Florida fans would like, I think Jeremy Foley nailed this hire (apart from the awkwardness of the public courting and buyout negotiations). Taking out unrealistic home-run hires like Bob Stoops, I think McElwain was next in the line of up and comers, and given Muschamp's struggles moving the ball, taking an proven offensive mind is no surprise. He inherits a talented defense and will quickly get the offense to an above-average level, which in the SEC East should be good enough to compete with Georgia/Mizzou/South Carolina very soon.

The best word I can come up with to describe Nebraska hiring Mike Riley is weird. Riley's resume looked very good five or six years ago, taking a team that had been conference doormat to consecutive seasons of 8+ wins. Right now? He's 29-33 in his last five seasons, and that doesn't bode well for a program where the bar is set so high - Bo Pelini's disappointing seasons seem like what I'd expect Riley's average year to be. There are good reasons no one had Riley on Nebraska's short list before the news broke -to me Nebraska's best chance at long-term success is re-establishing a talent pipeline in the Midwest - and I don't see this ending well or lasting long.

I think Michigan's "deliberate" search will really be waiting to feel out Jim Harbaugh, and that will end poorly as some of the hot names either lock up extensions or are hired like McElwain. I think after Harbaugh turns them down Michigan ends up settling for Mark Stoops or Greg Schiano, because he is maybe the most "Michigan man" of a person who is not actually connected to Michigan.


I might be out of the normal school of thought on this one but I'm lukewarm on McElwain to Florida because I don't think that Florida will have patience with him. McElwain is a great coach to be sure, but he's a builder, and it will take time for McElwain to install his system because Florida's offense is such a dumpster fire at the moment. His saving grace will be his southern bona fides and the hope that he can maintain Florida's defensive strength. I just don't think Gator fans will be that patient. If they are, look out. Florida could be a scary team.

Riley, to be honest, is such a horrible hire that I wonder if there is something we don't know about him that Nebraska does. He's been mired in mediocrity for the better part of five years with his only claims to fame being to upset Oregon and USCon Thursday nights from time to time. He has almost no recruiting ties to the Midwest in a program that needs it. Maybe he will turn out to be Nebraska's Pete Carroll but I just don't see it.

Ah Michigan....they SHOULD hire Addazio, who runs an offense that would work well in Ann Arbor, but the Wolverines will likely think (wrongly) that hiring a BC coach is beneath them and throw all their chips at Harbaugh before going with Schiano.


I think McElwain is the right hire for Florida given the options that are out there. Maybe not a homerun, but a solid ground rule double. The key is that has proven to be a good offensive mind and the Gators really haven't been great on offense since Dan Mullen left. As far as recruiting goes, I don't think he's the kind of guy to get some big time recruits excited simply by showing up. Because he was at Colorado State and kept away from talking to the media while at Alabama, he's not really a guy that some of the big time 2015 kids are going to know much about. We'll see how that goes in the short term with McElwain, but if he wins, there are always plenty of kids in the area just waiting to become Gators. I think he's got a good chance at winning some games early if he can develop Treon Harris at quarterback.

The Mike Riley hire for Nebraska seemed way out of left field, but the more I think about it, the more I'm starting to like it. His age is obviously a problem for the long term, but most coaches don't stick at a place for ten years or more these days. They want him for now so I can look past that part of it. The biggest thing with Riley is that he is known to get more from less talent than just about anyone. He's one of the best talent evaluators in the nation and has developed a lot of recruits into players that have far exceeded their rankings. Now he can identify players that he wanted at Oregon State (the three stars with high upside) and land them more often at Nebraksa. The Cornhuskers have always done it with less hyped players and so has Riley.

This is a bad year for Michigan to be looking for a head coach. I think the pipe dream of getting Jim Harbaugh is never going to happen. I honestly have no idea who they might hire. My prediction is that it will be someone who isn't currently on the radar right now.


After missing on the Mississippi coaches, I was surprised how quickly and openly Jeremy Foley pursued Jim McElwain. The cloak-and-dagger nature of coaching searches was absent from this process. The public was not stuck investigating the validity of manual retweets while keeping a bleary eye on FlightAware to see where Florida's plane would land. The official Gators Twitter account was even posting pictures from the return trip from Colorado. There were no secrets. They wanted McElwain and they got him. He has SEC experience, he has an offensive background, and he has experience running an entire program. I like the hire, but as with any coach, we have to wait to see if their positive qualities will translate to their new environment. 

While the Florida hiring process was open, Nebraska's hire of Mike Riley was a shock. Riley enters a rocky situation - a team upset with Pelini's firing and a fanbase that clearly disliked Pelini but is not astounded by Riley. Riley seems like a big hit with his Oregon State players, so he should be able to get the locker room on his side. If Riley can reach the same win totals as Pelini while maintaining his beloved coach identity, he should be fine. That is not an easy thing, though! He will need to extend Nebraska's recruiting footprint to keep the team competitive. This might be contingent on getting In 'N  Out to open a few franchises in the Cornhusker State. 

Michigan will hire Steve Addazio, solely based on the strength of his Vine account


I'm probably a little biased having just moved to Colorado and watching what McElwain has done this year, but I think Florida is going to get their money's worth out of him. He'll get the offense back on track, no doubt in my mind. I do have some concerns that he can recruit well, but at a certain point, Florida recruits itself. Also, he looks like Luke Skywalker. Much trust have I in him.

I'm fully "meh" on the Mike Riley hire at Nebraska. I think it will end up being half dozen of one (Pelini) vs. six of the other (Riley). He'll be much nicer than Pelini, so he's got that going for him, I suppose. I think he's going to end up being more of a stopgap for Nebraska, allowing them to go after a bigger coach whenever the time arrives. I expect him to overperform in year one and then get comfortable going 8-4 every year.

The Michigan job. While I actually think they have a better than snowball's chance in hell at landing Harbaugh (seriously, who knows what that guy is going to do), I don't think he ends up in Ann Arbor. From a best fit/best possible option perspective, I think Dan Mullen would be the guy that would be the slam dunk hire, but he would have to want to leave the SEC (though he is at Miss St.) in order to do so. Here's my probabilities for their hire: Harbaugh 10%, Mullen 20%, Addazio/Schiano/MANBALL 20%, The Field 50%. Part of me wants them to give Stitt a chance just because I want to watch that offense in FBS, but that would be greedy of me.


I love the McElwain hire. If you accept we live in a world where the Ole Miss coach is making 4 million a year and has no reason to leave and the idea of poaching an elite coach from one big school to another is impossible, then McElwain is as good as it gets. Experience in the SEC as Saban's offensive coordinator and a run of success at head coach at Colorado State culminating in ten wins and some time in the Top 25 this year. McElwain would have been at the top of my list for ND in a hypothetical search this offseason.

The more I think about the Riley hire, the less I hate it, but I say that full well knowing if I was a Nebraska fan I would be furious they didn't get someone with a little more flash. He's used to working with limited resources and the Big Ten is by no means the Pac-12. Say Riley coaches for five years, would you be surprised if he won a Big Ten title? That division is opposite all of the powers and if he wins the division a few times he just needs to spring an upset in the title game to get to the big-name bowl Pelini always fell short of. Plus he's generally regarded as absurdly nice, so I'm sure he'll handle the politics and fans a little better than Bo. There's not a high ceiling here, but the floor isn't going to fall out like it did under Callahan.

Michigan is going to end with Jim Harbaugh. Go Blue! (Michigan fans stop reading here, please.) Hey guys, I don't think they will, but I just want to set the bar so high so that they're disappointed. Not having to deal with the Wolverines annually makes me so so so happy. 37-0 forever.


I like Florida's more than Nebraska, but I don't love either hire. McElwain has done well in three seasons at CSU, and has improved the team every year (4-8, 8-6,10-2). He's also a former Saban assistant so he's definitely learned from the best. A big part of my concern with the hire is due to the finances involved. Muschamp's buyout is around $6m and Florida spent another $7m between cash and a future game to get McElwain away from Ft. Collins. These $13m of expenses are before paying McElwain a cent. While Florida's athletic department can probably afford all of this with SEC Network checks coming in, it's a pretty high price to pay for someone that's only had limited head coaching experience. Lastly, while Jimbo Fisher has been a very successful head coach, Nick Saban coaching tree also includes Derek Dooley, and the coach Florida just fired, so there's no guarantee learning from Saban leads to future success. While I think McElwain can be successful, Florida is paying a ton of money for a sneaky old (51) and relatively unproven commodity, and I'm not sure Foley can afford another Zook or Muschamp.

While Florida's hire can at least be easily explained, I'm completely baffled by Nebraska's decision. I didn't think firing Pelini was a smart move, but could understand the reasons behind it. Replacing Bo with Mike Riley, however, makes no sense to me. I think Mike Riley is a pretty good coach who has had Oregon State performing in the top half of the PAC-12 while sharing a state with Nike U. That being said, he's had just four 9+ win seasons in 14 seasons. Pelini has never won less than nine games in his seven seasons as a head coach. While it's obviously harder to win games at Oregon State than Nebraska, why fire a coach for having too low a ceiling to hire a coach that appears to have an even lower one? To further complicate things, Mike Riley is 61 years old, has no ties to the program, and has spent his entire career on the west coast. I think it's telling that at least two of my friends thought Nebraska hired Mike Gundy when told they hired "Mike from OSU." The hire could be made a bit better if Orgeron comes along as an assistant to help with recruiting, but it's hard to see Riley being any better in Lincoln than Pelini.

Michigan Prediction: They're getting someone with NFL head coaching experience. No, not Harbaugh, Greg Schiano.


I think the McElwain hire for Florida was the best they could do without poaching another head coach from a top-tier program.  On my personal list of "Best Coaches of the non-Power 5 Conferences," he was at the very top, and I had tagged him to get a Power 5 job this season.  Like Eric, I think they will see an improvement in their offense, but the defense depends on who he hires for his staff.  I think recruiting will remain constant for them, maybe with a slight bump, and that also depends on who he hires for his staff.  I would have liked to see him have more years of established success at CSU before crowning him the next Urban Meyer

Nebraska was a head-scratcher.  I think Riley is decent enough, but he is rather old, and I always thought he would retire at Oregon State.  Like Eric, I think that it might be their attempt to move to a west coast-based recruiting strategy.  The tin-foil hat conspiracy theorist in me believes that he is a stop-gap: someone that is as good as Pelini that can actually get along with the powers-that-be until a coach that they actually want comes along.

I think Michigan's next coach is going to be Brian Cook.

Jim Miesle:

Florida:  They get an A on the hire because McElwain was the best coach available.  Watch him hire Pelini as his DC--but watch out, I hear gators eat cats.  He should compete right away in the SEC East, but the talent isn't as great in Gainsville as it was when they were winning.

Nebraska:  Mediocre at best on the Riley hire.  I think he will give them another long string of 3-5 loss seasons and bridge the gap until the next hire.  Someone mentioned Stitt as a potential candidate and he probably would have been a much better option given the personnel in Lincoln.  Too bad most college athletic directors aren't that smart.
Michigan's best choice for their next coach (of the group they could actually get) is Greg Schiano.  I doubt Wolverine fans want to hear that though.  I think Addazio would also be a decent fit (#BeADude) but neither will meet the

Michigan Man(TM) seal of approval.  The job in Ann Arbor isn't as good as it once was, and the Rich Rod situation will keep most candidates away.  Whomever they hire will just be a stop-gap for the next 4-6 years.  Given the time it took to fire Hoke, I don't see them getting this position filled anytime soon.