Riley learns you can go home again

CORVALLIS, Ore. — Mike Riley was introduced yesterday for the second time as Oregon State's football coach — four years after he left the Beavers for the NFL.

"I guess the world really is round," Riley said a day after accepting a seven-year deal to replace Dennis Erickson, who left to coach the San Francisco 49ers.

Riley, 49, coached the Beavers in 1997-98 before bolting to become coach of the San Diego Chargers. Most recently he was defensive backs coach of the New Orleans Saints.

"I can't say enough about how special it feels to be back in Corvallis again," he said.

Riley's contract pays him $625,000 his first year with yearly raises, topping out at $950,000 in the seventh year.

He also has opportunities to make bonuses based on his team's academic performance, community service and on-field success. He has a $1 million buyout clause over the first five years of the deal.

Riley was among several candidates Athletic Director Bob De Carolis interviewed, including Boise State Coach Dan Hawkins. De Carolis said he made just one offer — to Riley.

"I saw firsthand what happened to this program in Mike Riley's second year," De Carolis said. "The phrase 'We're hoping to win' went out the door."

When Riley took over at Oregon State in 1997, he inherited a program that had won just three games in two seasons.

He was 8-14 during his tenure with the Beavers, but his recruits — including quarterback Jonathan Smith and running back Ken Simonton — found ultimate success under Erickson, who finished 31-17 at Oregon State.

In Erickson's first year at Oregon State, the Beavers finished 7-5 after an NCAA-record 28 straight losing seasons. The following season, Oregon State went a school-best 11-1 and beat Notre Dame 41-9 in the Fiesta Bowl.

Seventeen of the 24 players who started for OSU in the Fiesta Bowl were recruited by Riley.

Riley, fired after going 14-34 in three seasons with the Chargers, also interviewed for vacancies at Alabama and UCLA. He was offered the Alabama job, but turned it down to await UCLA's decision.

The Bruins ultimately went with Karl Dorrell, the Denver Broncos' receivers coach.

Erickson's departure and Riley's subsequent hiring was the first major hurdle faced by De Carolis, who became Oregon State's athletic director last August.

De Carolis replaced Mitch Barnhart, who hired Erickson in 1999 but left last summer to become Kentucky's athletic director.

In Erickson, De Carolis had a staunch supporter and affable spokesman for the school's plans for an $80 million, 8,000-seat expansion to Reser Stadium.

It is expected that Riley will pick up fund-raising efforts where Erickson left off.

Because he grew up in Corvallis and attended Corvallis High School, Riley has strong ties to the community. His father, Bud Riley, was an assistant at Oregon State.

"This is what I hope is my last job," Riley said. "And I hope I live a long time and I work a long time."