A few years ago I was coaching high school football at Mountain Vista in Highlands Ranch, a south suburb of Denver, Colorado. Post-9/11 made me think about doing something I enjoyed and could give back to the community. So with much support, I was allowed to dive into coaching for my second stint at the high school level.
I loved having the ability to be around coaches and players and work towards a goal every day. Without a doubt, there is something special about the football fraternity. If you know the game, and many people do, you know what an awesome feeling of accomplishment and team bonding can be.
At the high school level you take in a bunch of young kids and they graduate as young men. It’s an awesome sight.
Last night’s game between USC and OSU brought me back to the most recent time when I was coaching and a time when I was able to meet both Pete Carroll and Mike Riley.
As a benefit to coaching for Mountain Vista, head coach Ric Cash (who is an absolute class act) was putting together a staff for the second-year school, and I was fortunate enough to be added to his staff. In addition, Ric had previously hired a good friend of mine, Loren Snyder, to help coach TEs and serve as a general sounding board for the QBs.
Loren was a stud QB at Northern Colorado and had a brief stint in the NFL with the Dallas Cowboys (for which I told him I’d never forgive him) and the Denver Broncos (for which I have never forgiven Dan Reeves for sticking with Ken Karcher).
While Loren might have had his faults as a player, he was very much a big gun QB and probably deserved a better shot at being an NFL starter than he actually got.
We used to play in a flag football league after Loren’s playing days during the 1990s. Even though I knew Loren for a little while, this is what I considered my introduction to him.
We were warming up before our first game of the season. Loren tells me to run a 10 and out, so I obliged, but he abruptly obliged my lack of speed by nearly breaking my right index finger as I dropped the first ball he threw me. Ouch—I think I can still feel the pain from the frozen leather football on that cold, icy autumn morning in Boulder.
I got a bone-bruised finger I could barely bend, and Loren got a slow receiver out of the deal—yet somehow a friendship was built over the years.
Coach Cash took care of his coaches and saw it as a wise investment to get his coaches to the annual Nike Coaches clinic held in metro Denver. During those years I was fortunate to see and hear a number of the greatest coaches our country has to offer at the collegiate level speak on their approaches with their teams.
My introduction to Mike Riley was a bit of a funny one. After a standing ovation from the coaches prior to his hour-long talk, he walked up to the podium with the OSU logo on a screen behind him.
He introduced himself then was just about to start to talk about his program. He pointed to the logo and simply said, “Beavers” with a smile. He caught the room's attention and a few more smiles and chuckles.
Mike gave a great talk and overview of his career and the Oregon State Program and eventually did some brief film study with the coaches.
Loren and Mike had known each other going back a number of years from their time at Northern Colorado, so they were going to lunch with some other friends (Greg & Mike Brown). I asked if I could crash their party, and they were all gracious enough to allow me to hang out and do lunch with them.
Mike was on a tight travel schedule but was incredibly approachable as a person. That is pretty much the case with most of the head coaches I’ve met through the years. It was just reassuring to witness as a younger coach.
As a football fan I knew Mike had previously coached at OSU and was in San Diego during the Ryan Leaf years. I always felt like that was a difficult position for a coach to be in. Here you have a guy that much of the nation whiffed on regarding his overall ability in Ryan Leaf. I included myself in that group.
I really wanted to know what happened because I really thought Ryan was going to be something special. Mike was honest and gracious about how he felt it boiled down to a game the Chargers had in Kansas City (one I did see living out in Broncos country), and you could see Ryan’s game implode and self-destruct. It was sort of a somber thought and a brutal reminder of how challenging life in the NFL can be.
We then talked about his life as a head coach on the college level and how hard coaches in general had to work to get recruits. Mike left me with a great impression since he was so optimistic about the future of the OSU program. In spite of the natural obstacles for smaller programs like OSU, he remained a visionary.
Mike also showed great class and invited me to go out to OSU for their spring ball. As much as my heart wanted to go, logistically I just couldn’t swing it—and yeah, that’s one of those small regrets I’ve had in my life.
I was also able to meet Pete Carroll at the Nike clinic and was able to get some advice and input about reaching personal goals as a coach and growing. Pete gave me some good practicals to act on and really gave me a greater sense of hope in being able to reach the collegiate or professional levels as a coach.
I’ve always had faith in my abilities as a coach, but there’s much more to that in coaching. Who you know is much bigger than what you know when trying to secure a position. The reality is even if you’re great at what you know, you still need to apply yourself to learning much more regardless of whose staff you’re on. Probably the biggest key of all in being a coach is perseverance.
So for me, last evening's game has a special sort of meaning. I have good friends in Southern California who pull for USC. One of my best friends from high school and college married a girl from Oregon State, but aside from that, the best thing I’ve had to go off of have been my personal encounters with the head coaches of USC and OSU.
Pete Carroll got a raw deal in New England, but he has obviously thrived at USC, and you can just see, as we saw back then, that they have something special going. Many people who follow college football religiously did not see last night’s final score coming.
I have to admit, I didn’t even know USC and OSU were hooking up this early in the season. The only point of relevance I knew I could offer going into this game was that you can’t count Mike Riley and OSU out because they know how to play as a team. They keep coming after you.
It’s not a perfect program—they’ve had their fair share of faults over the years. I’ve even sat back and watched an OSU blowout while they were fighting the elements more than the other team. I really felt for OSU and most specifically how Mike and his staff would bounce back from such a drubbing.
It is times like those that inspire us though in our human condition, when the chips are down and you can find a way to fight back and bring home the bacon. I just don’t believe there is any greater elation.
You’ve heard you can’t keep a good man down—I think Mike Riley and the Oregon State Beavers proved that last night, just as they have continued to prove over the last few years.
I leave you, the reader, to ponder over some of the most recent results in Oregon State football history. I think you’ll agree, no matter whom you root for, betting against Mike Riley and OSU proves to be a bad idea.
Oregon State recent upsets and big wins under Mike Riley
USC (No. 1) 27-21
@ Cal (No. 2) 31-28
Oregon (No. 18) 38-31 (2OT)
USC (No. 3) 33-31
Hawai’i (No. 24) 35-32
Missouri 39-38 (Sun Bowl)
Boise State 30-27
Wash State 44-33
@ Cal 23-20