Friday, April 24, 2009

Q&A: Mike Riley, HC, Oregon St.

Coach Riley is 56-42 at Oregon St., including 48-28 since his return from the NFL in 2003, including a 5-0 Bowl record with a stint in between coaching the San Diego Chargers. As a player, Coach Riley won four SEC titles with Alabama Crimson Tide.


Hi coach, how are you doing today?

Coach Riley: I’m doing very well, thanks for having me.

You are halfway through spring football at Oregon St., with seven practices under your belt and seven remaining before the Spring Game. How have things gone so far?

Coach Riley:
Well it feels good. The work is good. The work-ethic is good. We are getting, I think, a lot of good preparation for the season. You know, spring ball is such a great time for teaching skills and spending time with individual players without a ‘game-prep’, right-on-top-of-you. So it’s a great time of year and I think our team is working hard. We have a lot of holes to fill, but it’s all good work.

Would you say teaching is your main objective in spring ball?

Coach Riley:
It’s all about skill development really, you know, we run a bunch of plays and we’ll even tweak some stuff, but if we can get a guy to run a better out-route during spring ball then we’ve made some progress. We really try to focus on the little things because they’ll all fit into packages that go into game plans later. But you just don’t get a lot of time to do this kind of thing later on, so you have to take advantage of skill development.

Is that a constant or does it vary from team-to-team depending on who is coming back?

Coach Riley:
Well that is well said, because I think you have to balance that out between seniors and freshmen. We've got a senior quarterback that we can hit the ground running with, but we’ve got some freshmen receivers that don’t know where the ground is (laughs). You have to try and balance that out and bring those guys up to speed so they can make an impact in the fall.

You mentioned working on those specific skills. I read that you were working with the stellar running back Jacquizz Rogers on his route running in yesterday’s practice, so is that a point of emphasis with him? Should we expect to see his role as a pass catcher expand come this fall?

Coach Riley:
You know Dan, that is something that he can do very well. I mean, he’s got very good hands and of course he’s got great quickness coming out of the backfield. I think he caught 30-something balls last year--he probably can catch 50 with the screen passes we’ll throw him and some of the stuff we can do with him coming out of the backfield. I’d like to expand that a little bit, but it also--right now for him--is one of those areas that can keep him out of contact and let him get healed-up for fall camp. There are also some things that we can work on that don’t put any burden on his shoulder, so he can get some running in and catch the ball. Then we do some ball-handling with him besides that, running tracks of our running plays, but if we can get some of that accomplished in spring ball then we’ll be ahead of the game.

What’s the status on his shoulder and the rehab there--is he getting any contact, and will he get any contact at all this spring?

Coach Riley:
Probably not. I don’t think I’m being overly cautious, but I am being cautious with it. He’s basically had a big time positive report from his last appointment with the doctors, so we feel really, really good about him being 100 percent for fall camp.

What’s the status of quarterback Lyle Moevao? When do you expect him to be able to start throwing the football again?

Coach Riley:
Well, it will probably be another six weeks. He spent the first six weeks in a sling. Yesterday was his first day out of that sling, so that was good news, and I know, much more comfortable for him. He feels very good. I think the big deal with Lyle, that will keep him paying attention to the protocol, is that he has to go through and not try to do too much too early. But I expect him to be throwing the ball this summer and being ready for fall camp.

Now coach, is there a way you can spin this in a positive way. You know what you have with those two this gives more opportunities to unproven players to show what they can do and to get some experience?

Coach Riley:
That’s absolutely what we’re doing. We have to try and make lemonade out of lemons sometimes. I’d much rather have Lyle practicing with us, but the silver lining is that Sean (Canfield) is having a great spring and is basically ready to take command of this thing. He's playing the role of a ‘good senior quarterback’ and then we have a red-shirt freshman, Ryan Katz, that is really benefiting from all the extra work that he has been getting. So there is a silver lining; we are able to get him some turns that are very visible for his development, so I hope in the long run it all balances out. Lyle’s healthy, Sean’s healthy, and we can start the season with two senior quarterbacks and a younger guy who’s really got good preparation through spring ball.

Offensive lineman Michael Philip was your top recruit according to scouting services. Do you expect him, or any of the true freshmen, to make an impact from day one?

Coach Riley:
You know Dan, we really like to red-shirt guys if we can. We red-shirted 25 kids last year, including some of our walk-ons, so in my mind being in a program going on seven years, it’s really about development and having that extra year to work with guys. However, we have had freshmen play--usually there are a couple every year that find their way in--and physically a guy like Michael Philip can do it. You know, whether or not we do it with him, we’ll go into fall camp and find out for sure. We got a receiver, Markus Wheaten, coming in here that ability-wise can play right away. But we’ll play that out, probably two weeks into fall camp before we make any decisions like that.

From a coach's perspective, when spring ball comes you must be pretty excited and pumped up after doing recruiting and all that stuff. You actually get to go back on the football field and do a little football?

Coach Riley:
It’s really fun to get back on the field and work with these kids. They’ve been through what I think is one of their hardest, most tedious times of the year--and that’s the off-season program--with a lot of running and lifting, so there’s a new spirit. It’s a new phase of the year, you get to start spring ball and put on the pads. You get to go out there and do what you like to do, so it is always fun. Footballs are in the air…summer is starting to come around a little bit, so it all feels good right now.

So with all this stuff going have the bowl games finishing up at the end of the year, you have a lot of recruiting, spring practice. Do you get any time off, do you do any traveling, or do you have to wait until the summertime?

Coach Riley:
That pretty much waits for us. You know, one thing about being in Corvallis, you might be able to appreciate, is it’s a small town and so we’re close to home. We have a fairly balanced life which I will never forget. I’m very thankful for that.

Let’s switch a little bit to guys that are leaving the program and moving on to the NFL. Let’s start with your cornerbacks--what can you tell us about Keenan Lewis and Brandon Hughes, a of couple guys who I think are getting a little underrated in this evaluation process…

Coach Riley:
You know, I think they might be but I’ve gotten quite a few phone calls on those guys, which might mean something. You probably realize that more than most. I think they are very, very good players and they are really solid guys. They played a ton of football for us; Brandon started three and a half years, Keenan four years. They played that position for a long time and got great experience against a lot of great receivers. They have good size for playing that position. I think that they will get good opportunities and it will be up to them to make the most of it.

What would you say is the strength of their game? Lewis to me seems like a physical kid who is not afraid to mix-it-up, and I think Brandon Hughes surprised some people with his speed at the Combine…

Coach Riley:
You know, I think you said it right. Keenan is lanky and has long arms, which everybody likes at that position. He gets his hands on people. I thought he had a great year, he had his best year…very, very solid, also ran very well. Brandon ran very well also. When people start testing after their season is over, those are the kinds of things they’re looking for. Then you put that together with their film and I think they’re both pretty good prospects.

Another guy who could be a day-one selection is Ande Levitre, your offensive lineman who played some offensive tackle for you. I think he’s more projected as a guard at the next level. What does he bring to the table? If an NFL team called you to ask about him, what would you tell them?

Coach Riley:
Well, you know, Ande is really a good football player, one of the best linemen we’ve ever had. He has played everywhere from guard to tight end. He settled in the last two years at tackle, but you’re right on, I think he’s more of an NFL guard, but I think he’ll play for 10 years. He’s very, very smart, very tough, very competitive and athletic. He’ll be able to go in and technically be very sound, then you add that in with who he is as a person and what he brings in that regard, and I think he’ll be a real-solid pick for somebody.

Coach let me ask you about guys that you faced--I know that it’s a tough question just to pluck one or two guys out--you guys faced a lot of good teams, obviously, with a tough Pac-10 schedule. You played Penn State, Hawaii, and Utah out of conference. Can you throw maybe one or two guys at me that kind of stood out to you, guys that you faced?

Coach Riley:
Well I could start off naming USC’s team (laughter) that would be pretty easy. I’m really a big fan of Mark Sanchez, you know, I think that he brings it all there. He’s a very smart guy, can throw all the balls, and I think has been well-schooled at USC in the types of things that they’ll ask him to do in the NFL. He’s great. Then the linebacking corps: (Clay) Matthews and (Brian) Cushing and Rey Maualuga. All those guys are going to be really good players and will be great additions to whatever teams they end up with.

We like to close things out here with a segment we call ‘Three-and-out’, with three quick questions so…First down: What do you miss most about being in the NFL?

Coach Riley:
I think it’s…the day-to-day football was outstanding and being around those guys. People like Junior Seau and Rodney Harrison, Jim Harbaugh when he was quarterbacking…I could go on-and-on…John Parilla. I just watched those guys that played at such a high level for such a long time and I appreciated that a ton.

Second down: What do you miss least about coaching in the NFL?

Coach Riley:
Well, you know I really...there’s nothing really. I don’t miss losing (laughter). We lost a lot of games and it was hard. And that part of it, if I looked back at it with any regrets--which I try not to--it was just that we didn’t do well enough.

Third down: If you had the first pick in the Draft what would you do?

Coach Riley:
Oh boy…I would probably…you know, I don’t know Stafford very well, but I would look hard at Sanchez. I think he will be a good quarterback for a long time.

You would lean toward that quarterback position though?

Coach Riley:
Yeah, you know, it depends on my team. But if we needed a guy, I’d look at one of those guys for sure.

Alright coach, thanks a lot for joining us and giving us some time. We wish you luck with the rest of this spring and we’ll be looking forward to that game. I believe the spring game is May 2, is that right?

Coach Riley:
That is right. We’ll be heading off into our spring game, and then it won’t be long before (laughter) we’ll be headed into our fall camp. The older we get, the faster these years go by.

I hear that. I’m starting to learn that myself as I head into my mid-30’s. Coach, try and find some time over the summer where you can kick back and relax a little as well…

Coach Riley:
Thank you for saying that, I will do that for sure. Thanks for having me on.

Photo Credit: Oregon St.