YOU KNEW IT was on the way. A disappointing, bowl-less 2010 season, and a shocking loss in the 2011 opener. Then, a beat-down skunking at Wisconsin last week. ‘Fire him. Fire Mike Riley, or at least fire some of his staff.’ And it’s not all that surprising, the Beavs have underwhelmed so far in '11, and certainly did so the year before. So fire him. But there’s only one problem with all that…
The year 2006.
That season, the Beavers in Week 5 hosted WSU and came out of the game a 13-6 loser. The Oregon State defense was stout that day, the OSU offense was "inept" according to newspaper scribes. And that was being charitable.
The loss was the last straw for many fans -- much like the Sac State game this year, or the Wisconsin tilt this past Saturday.
In ’06, Oregon State had finished a disappointing 5-6 the year before. Then they opened the season getting blown out by Boise State and Cal. Now, after losing to Wazzu, OSU sat at 2-3 and looked to be sliding backwards down a hill. The picture above is from the WSU game at Reser.
After the WSU loss, booster Al Reser created a stir, saying in the media that the current direction of the football program was "unacceptable". Not the game, not the loss -- the direction of the entire program.
Mike Riley, it was written by multiple sources, was now under "major fire" and his job was on the line. Message boarders feverishly began to compile their future OSU coach wish lists.
But then, with no one outside of the program expecting it, Oregon State caught fire.
Four straight Pac-10 wins, including a monumental triumph over USC. A setback against UCLA was followed by three more wins, including the Civil War and a bowl game win.
From 2-3 and calls the Willamette Valley over to fire Riley and to do so pronto --- to 10-4 and a Top 25 ranking.
And it didn’t stop there. After slow starts, the Beavs went 9-4, 9-4 the next two years, finishing both seasons again in the Top 25. In ’09, Oregon State would have done it all one more time but they lost their bowl game, falling to 8-5. And yes, we would all have liked more and better than 8-5 but still, really, 2009 was not all that terrible of a season, was it?
It was during this time the national punditry began calling Riley one of the best college coaches around, that he got more out of his lowly ranked recruits than just about anyone else. A damned fine coach who looked at USC and said, No Thanks, that he would be staying right here in Corvallis. And the fans rejoiced.
A year and a couple bad losses took care of all that.
And now suddenly Mike Riley has, in some people’s minds, forgotten how to coach and recruit. And that just ain’t so.
Here’s the thing. The difference between winning and losing is often very small -- for example, some of your stars being out injured.
Oregon State will be getting some star players back in the coming weeks. Joe Halahuni and James Rodgers figure to make a difference. And given the way the front seven played against the run at Wisconsin, and therefore providing a good barometer of what they’re capable of, things are going to get brighter.
No one is saying Riley and Co. have done everything right this season – that willy-nilly QB rotation was a bad idea, for starters. And the Sac State loss? Good-NIGHT that was a big ball of dreck from beginning to end.
No one is saying Riley, and coordinators Danny Langsdorf and Mark Banker, and the whole OSU staff shouldn’t have to weather some criticism – that’s decidedly fair after such a disappointing start.
And no one is saying today that the Beavs are (again) going to shock the college football world like they did in those previous “slow start-unreal finish” seasons and zip of 9-10 wins in 2011.
But there are sunnier days ahead, and they’re coming in the here and now, in the 2011 campaign. That, I am saying. And I'm saying it with conviction.