Riley knows how to win

PAUL FRIESEN, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:19 AM ET

He's the last head coach to bring a Grey Cup to Winnipeg. In fact, he did it twice in three years.

He went on to become an NFL head coach for three years and has been called the saviour of the Oregon State University football program.

Today, Mike Riley is on the brink of one of his finest moments, his Beavers within one victory of a berth in the Rose Bowl.

A win over rival University of Oregon tomorrow -- the 112th edition of the "Civil War," they call it -- would do the trick: propel the Beavers to the conference (Pac 10) championship and on to the Granddaddy of Them All.

If he pulls it off, it would be Riley's first Rose Bowl as a head coach, and Oregon State's first in 44 years.

"This will be a wild deal," Riley told the Sun yesterday from his office in Corvallis, Ore., a city of 55,000 some 90 minutes south of Portland. "It's the talk of the state, for sure."

We shouldn't be surprised, either, at the kind of team Riley has put together, a strong defence its backbone.

"The team does resemble those Winnipeg teams," Riley acknowledged. "These guys really love to play. I love players with that tremendous spirit and enthusiasm. We have an outstanding defence, and when you do that, you can be in any football game."

Even when your quarterback is Sean Salisbury and you're just 9-9, as Riley's championship squad was in '88.

A year later, the Bombers fell to 7-11, but still managed to beat Toronto in the East Semifinal and very nearly upset Hamilton in the Final.

Riley's fourth and final season in blue and gold produced a 12-6 mark and a dominating win over Edmonton in the Grey Cup.

Little did we know that would be the last time the Bombers would get a drink from the Cup in that millennium. Or that they'd go another nine dry years in the new one.

It's to the point where you wonder if anyone not named Riley or Murphy can get it done.

So what would it take to get the 55-year-old son of Bud to come back and try to end this nonsense?

"With a different time and circumstance, I would love that," Riley said. "We loved the league and I loved my life in Winnipeg. It would have been an honour to be considered for one of those opportunities.

"But right now I'm very content with what I'm doing, and don't want to think about doing anything else."

And why would he?

The perks and salary (Riley's pay is approaching a reported $1 million per year) that go with running a NCAA Division I program far outweigh anything the Bombers, or any CFL team, could throw at him.

Riley says he spoke briefly to his old centre, Bomber president/CEO Lyle Bauer, during Bauer's search for a new head man. But other than giving Bauer the name of someone else to talk to, that was it.

Seems he's a little busy with the Beavers, a team, like the Bombers, his dad once worked for.

"I've coached two places he's coached, and I'm very, very proud of that," Riley said.

Riley was in junior high when his dad moved the family to the Willamette Valley. So in a lot of ways he's back home, and loving it.

In the 25 years prior to his arrival, the Beavers never won more than four games. Riley has posted a winning record in five of the last six seasons and is 4-0 in Bowl games.

After an 0-2 start this season, the Beavers are 8-3, on a six-game win streak (including a victory over then-No. 1 USC) and on the verge of something special.

The last time the Beavers went to the Rose Bowl, a young Bud Riley was an assistant coach.

"It would be phenomenal," Riley said. "It's always on the back of your mind. Historically, it's just hard to get there.

"There's a lot of work to be done. But I think we've got a great chance to win."

Historically, Mike Riley usually sees to that.


Videos

Photos