Riley is the only current head coach in the Pac-12 who has been a head coach in the Pac-12 for more than four seasons.
Coach Team Since
Mike Riley Oregon State 2003*
Kyle Whittingham Utah 2005^
David Shaw Stanford 2011
Jim Mora Jr. UCLA 2012
Rich Rodriguez Arizona 2012
Todd Graham Arizona State 2012
Mike Leach Washington State 2012
Mark Helfrich Oregon 2013
Sonny Dykes California 2013
Mike MacIntyre Colorado 2013
Steve Sarkisian Southern Cal 2014
Chris Peterson Washington 2014
* Riley also coached the Beavers from 1997-98
^ Utah joined the Pac-12 in 2011
CORVALLIS — When Mike Riley emerges with his football team from the tunnel at Reser Stadium on the afternoon of Aug. 30, he will begin his 14th season leading the Oregon State program.
No current coach in the Pac-12 Conference comes anywhere close to Riley’s record of longevity.
Even Utah’s Kyle Whittingham cannot be included in the conversation. Sure, he is entering his 10th year leading Utah — but the Utes joined the Pac-12 just three years ago, in 2011.
Yes, Riley, now 61, has become the dean of Pac-12 football coaches. Although he may not see himself with such a title, he does have a certain degree of pride in his tenure in Corvallis.
“I came back to Oregon State with the intention of establishing a long-lasting program that had an identity, and I’m glad that I’ve had the chance to be able to do that and continue to do that,” Riley said during Pac-12 media days last week. “I’ve seen a lot of guys, I guess somebody told me since 2011 there are 10 new head coaches in our league. We all know it’s changing all the time, but we’re thankful for the stability.”
Indeed, 10 head football coaches in the Pac-12 have three years or less under their belts at their current schools. An asterisk might be included next to the name of Steve Sarkisian, who is heading into his first season at USC but did spend the previous five years at Washington.
Riley’s previous 13 seasons at Oregon State have included two stints — 1997-98 and since 2003. The five-year break represents Riley’s venture in the NFL as head coach of the San Diego Chargers and as an assistant with the New Orleans Saints.
After Riley and Whittingham is a huge drop-off when it comes to coaching longevity in the Pac-12. David Shaw is going into his fourth year at Stanford, but all the others are in their first, second or third year at their respective schools. Overall, the average Pac-12 coach has 3.4 years at his current school — a number that is obviously inflated by Riley and Whittingham.
Riley has seen plenty of change not only in the Pac-12, but within college football as a whole. The trend toward new offenses with different variations of the spread system comes to mind. The recruiting landscape and an emphasis on the welfare of athletes were also mentioned by the coach during interviews during the media gathering last week in Los Angeles.
“With the kind of dynamics we have and the size of how college football has grown, it’s only going to continue to do this and draw this kind of attention to these kind of issues, which I think most them are very appropriate,” Riley said. “I think we might be reaching for better ideas about for sure, student-athlete welfare, for sure recruiting. I think we’re going in good directions that can be helpful to the student-athlete and game in general when I’m talking about recruiting.”
So with such changes swirling about, how has Riley maintained a stable program in Corvallis?
“I think the key is not getting stagnant with what you do, is to continue to try to grow in every way,” he said. “It’s been fun for me. That’s why I feel good about this job. I’m energized by football. I always love tweaking what we’re doing and trying to make it better.
“I think we try to do that in every way in our program,” he added. “We’ve made big changes nutritionally with our team this last year, big changes in what we do in the weight room with them. Then just other things that help the program.”
It is those ever-changing parts to the game that keeps Riley’s approach to another year fresh.
“Whether it’s trying to do something new for our facility, our field, or whatever it might be, I’m energized by all of that all the time,” he said. “So frankly, I’ve been to a lot of these things now (preseason media day events), but I feel heading into a new year, like a little bit of a rookie again, I don’t really want to lose that. I kind of like that part of it.”