Oregon State's Mike Riley: Is This His Final Season as the Football Coach?

Eric RingeringContributor IIIMarch 11, 2012

CORVALLIS, OR - NOVEMBER 05: Oregon State Beavers head coach Mike Riley looks at the scoreboard during the game against the Oregon State Beavers on November 5, 2011 at Reser Stadium in Corvallis, Oregon. Stanford won the game 38-13. (Photo by Craig Mitchelldyer/Getty Images)
Craig Mitchelldyer/Getty Images

For someone who has never really supported the Oregon State Beavers, I always respected Mike Riley and thought that he deserved a lot of credit for what he has been able to accomplish at OSU.

Oregon State has to be one of the toughest places in the country to bring talented recruits, having virtually nothing unique to offer aside from early playing time, and yet Riley has still found a way to win and be competitive in the Pac-10.

But after two straight no-bowl seasons, a fourth straight defeat at the hands of the in-state rivals and one of the ugliest openings to the season in recent memory, it's time to question whether Riley has worn out his welcome in Corvallis. 

Riley raised a lot of eyebrows before the season when he decided to reinstate several suspended players for the season-opening game against Sacramento State (namely Castro Masaniai, who was charged with domestic violence for abusing his girlfriend in public) because the Beavers were too-shorthanded. The Beavers then went on to surrender possibly the worst loss in the program’s history—a 29-28 loss to FCS foe Sacramento State—with the players who were supposed to be suspended, playing.   

Then the next week Riley attempted to outdo himself by humiliating Ryan Katz on TV when he benched him for a freshman after one series. If Sean Mannion is outplaying Katz, that’s one thing. As a coach you should play the guy who gives your team the best chance to win.

But if you're only going to allow your starter to compete in one series (when he was 2-of-3 on his pass attempts), it means you didn't think he should have been the starter in the first place. That decision should have been made in practice, not on prime-time television. 

I'm not sure what was going through Riley's head when he made those decisions, but for someone who had always been renowned for bringing dignity and respectability to a program that hadn’t seen much of it, last year marked a point of devolution for Oregon State football.  

Riley has done enough to deserve one more season as coach. But the conference is evolving. Oregon and USC are getting stronger. Stanford is now a top-20 program. And many new faces appear ready to take their new programs back to respectability.   

At the end of the season, whether OSU earns a bowl or not, it needs to ask itself "Can Mike Riley compete with the likes of Chip Kelly, Mike Leach and Rich Rodriguez?" If that answer is no, it's probably best if the two part ways.